Waseca High School and Waseca Area Learning Center held commencement ceremonies for their graduating classes of 2021 last week.

The Waseca Junior Senior High School gym was nearly full on Sunday, thronged with family members, teachers, and staff to celebrate the graduating seniors’ triumph over a school year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I truly mean it when I say that this class is amazing,” Rachel Borneke, the senior class president, said in her speech. “This year was not ordinary, but we persevered. We learned life lessons that we will take with us into the future.”

Another class speaker, Gabriela Rodriguez, also remarked on the difficulty of the unusual year, and the meaning of pushing through tragedy and change.

“Whether it was a big project that we stayed up late to finish,” Rodriguez said, “or a global pandemic that forced us to learn from home, or the shared loss of a loved one in the community — we got through it together. A lot of things didn’t go according to plan this year, but it has taught us to be appreciative and thankful for everything we have in our lives, for everything that we used to take for granted.”

Among the things students used to take for granted, according to Rodriguez: hugging a family member, seeing friends’ smiling faces, and the sound of an unmasked choir. Fortunately for Waseca Junior Senior High School, choir director Deb Wantoch-Yess had one last act before retiring this month. Her choir sang two songs at graduation: “Be the Hero,” and “Omnia Sol (Let Your Heart be Staid).”

Before diplomas were presented, and graduation caps were thrown, high school Principal Jason Miller gave a speech. He remarked on how nice it was to see the Bluejay family gathered together as they should be: shoulder-to-shoulder. He thanked Yess for teaching 8,000 different songs to her students in her career, and for making their local music program legendary. He also described what graduates say they’re going to do next year: 64% plan to go on to a four-year college, 11% to a two-year college or certificate trade school, 8% directly into the workforce and 18% to take a gap year or are undecided.

Miller closed with a short essay by Mother Teresa called “Do It Anyway,” which invokes people to be kind, do good, and build, even if it all comes to naught.

The Waseca Area Learning Center held their own commencement on Friday, with graduates each receiving a short speech from a teacher or staff member of their choosing. There were 14 graduates.

Waseca ALC’s coordinator, Jake Hager, opened the ceremony by reflecting on the role that graduations plays, how they function as the culmination of a long, uncertain journey.

“At five or six, we start the journey, and then everybody ends up going on different paths,” Hager said in his speech. “One thing I love about ALC is everybody’s path really is different, but then everybody is able to come together at ALC and work together, and get to the final culmination of everybody’s journey, which is graduation. Graduation is the end of a journey that everybody’s been on for a long time. But with every ending is a new beginning.”

Reach Reporter Julian Hast at 507-333-3133. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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