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Newly graduated FHS seniors adjusted their cap tassels to indicate their status as 2021 graduates. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

The class of 2021 is what Faribault Superintendent Todd Sesker referred to as “a new generation of leaders” at Sunday’s Faribault High School commencement ceremony.

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Iris Avila holds up the flag of Mexico as she enters Nomeland Gym to receive her FHS diploma. Behind her is another graduate, Nasra Hajji-Mohamed. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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Arlette Lazaro smiles big as she enters FHS Nomeland Gym to receive her diploma. Next in the alphabet behind her is Alex Leet. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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FHS senior Joseph Erickson enters Nomeland Gym before graduating. Behind him are two more seniors, Jacqueline Briones and Payton Evenstad. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

“I don’t know if you seniors know what you did for education, not just here, but throughout the U.S.,” Sesker said. “… Our pedagogy has changed because of you.”

Supporters of the 2021 FHS graduating class filled Nomeland Gym Sunday afternoon. This was the first “normal” FHS graduation ceremony since 2019. Last year’s seniors participated in a “drive-thru” commencement to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

After saying “I’m sorry” to the class of 2021 for all the missed opportunities with school, sports, activities and friends that seniors typically enjoy their last year of high school, Sesker commended the 228 seniors for adapting to the changes the COVID-19 pandemic introduced in the last year.

Faribault High School Senior Class President Payton Ross, who addressed her fellow graduating classmates Sunday, spoke about the legacy the FHS class of 2021 would leave behind, not only as “COVID seniors” as they came to be known, but for small things like holding open doors and sharing kind words. Along with that, she said she recognizes a lot of “passionate world changers” in her classmates and described how the pandemic pushed them out of their comfort zones and forced them to grow and take on the unexpected. When they look back on high school, she said, she and her classmates will most appreciate the things they enjoyed the first three years but missed as seniors.

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FHS 2021 Senior Class President Payton Ross addressed her fellow classmates at their graduation ceremony Sunday. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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Faribault Superintendent Todd Sesker introduced the five FHS valedictorians for the class of 2021. From left: Alli Velander, Kylie Petricka, Makayla Keilen, Ruby Gernandt and Victoria Carlsten. Each addressed their fellow classmates at the commencement. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

Five valedictorians of the FHS class of 2021 also reflected on their high school years in the commencement addresses they prepared.

Valedictorian Alli Velander began with a quote by Winston Churchill, which she considers fitting for her senior class: “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” She described high school as both the best and worst days of her life, and the days that molded the whole class into the people they are today.

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FHS graduate Anna Behning smiles as she walks away with her high school diploma. Pictured behind her are Faribault School Board members Casie Steeves and Richard Olson. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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FHS graduate Jonathan Cap accepts his diploma from Faribault School Board member Jerry Robicheau. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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Norma Cordero gives a first bump to FHS Principal Jamie Bente after receiving her diploma. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

Makayla Keilen, valedictorian, thanked teachers, coaches, the community and especially parents for their dedication to the graduating seniors. She also encouraged her classmates to cherish each moment rather than only looking for hope in the future.

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FHS graduate Jasmine Hemmer smiles as she walks away with diploma in hand. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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Maygan Holdridge accepted her diploma at FHS Sunday and received personal applause as she walked across the stage. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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FHS senior Jordan Nawrocki gives a fist bump to School Board member Jerry Robicheau as he accepts his diploma. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

After a year and a half without a normal high school experience, valedictorian Ruby Gernandt urged her classmates to be grateful for the bit of normalcy they had in 2021. In looking back on high school, she encouraged her classmates to remember the positive memories above all else.

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Payton Prieve accepts his diploma from School Board Chair Chad Wolff Sunday afternoon at FHS. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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FHS 2021 graduate Hannah Sepin walks away smiling with her high school diploma. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

Kylie Petricka’s message in her valedictory speech was, “Enjoy your life while you can.” Admitting that she herself regrets getting too caught up in homework at times and missing out on the other aspects of high school, she said the pandemic served as a reminder of how quickly life can change.

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FHS senior Christian Velazquez goes in for a fist bump from FHS Principal Jamie Bente (off camera) after accepting his diploma Sunday. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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One of the last in the alphabet, FHS graduate Perla Zamora steps off the stage punching the air. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

Valedictorian Victoria Carlsten spoke about the obstacles her class needed to overcome individually and together in the past year. What her class learned through the pandemic, she said, was to do everything with purpose and live each day like it’s their last.

Carlsten ended with a quote by Malcom X: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs for those who prepare it today.”

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Faribault High School graduate Angel Gonzalez poses for a post-graduation commencement photo with his parents, Miguel and Brenda Gonzalez, outside FHS. Angel is joining the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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Recently graduated FHS senior Carter Breitenfeldt poses for a photo after Sunday's commencement with his mom, Karyn Breitenfeldt. Post graduation, Carter plans to attend the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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Recently graduated seniors Ruby Gernandt, left, and Gabbie Yetzer pose for a photo outside FHS following their graduation ceremony. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

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FHS 2021 graduate Istahil Mohamud, center, poses for a photo with her cousins in the FHS parking lot following Sunday’s commencement. Left is Anfa Mohamud and right is Kayyff Abdi. (Misty Schwab/southernminn.com)

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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