On Saturday evening, two months after their graduation was initially scheduled, the Rutland graduating class of 2020 finally walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Filled with laughter, the program was as much a celebration as a leave-taking.
High school social sciences teacher Rich Myrvik, the commencement speaker, maintained the spirit of the occasion by describing the students as oppressed -- by homework; malnourished -- and in need of a backpack of food in the classroom; sleep deprived -- through no fault of their own; and social media giants -- until classes went online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each descriptor brought a laugh of recognition to the graduates and the family members in attendance.
However, Myrvik also described the graduates as America's potential.
"They are the young Americans -- the patriots, the future moms and dads, agri-business CEOs, microbiologists, teachers, farmers, computer innovators and firepersons," he said to the audience. Turning to the graduates, he added, "You are all truly America's potential."
Myrvik began by telling those in attendance that the class -- "these fine young men and women" -- taught him what the word "potential" means. He explained that he thought he understood the word because teachers see potential in all of their students.
"In fact, helping students discover and explore their own potential and then assisting them in growing is the typical day at school," he said.
However, he found himself challenged in teaching the class of 2020. He referenced a curse, alleged to be Chinese in origin, in describing their first class together, world history: "May you live in interesting times."
"Yes, that was a very `interesting' history class," he quipped. That was the very quality, though, which taught Myrvik what potential really means.
"This class, through many episodes of butting heads, strongly expressed opinions, and endless hours of philosophical discussion, proved to me one important point. We have difficulty in recognizing potential in the beginning because it hasn't taken a form yet," he said.
In addition to pulling some advice from TikTok and Snapchat, Myrvik asked the graduates to take note of something President Theodore Roosevelt said: "Nothing in the world is worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty -- I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."
Myrvik also provided a bit of personal advice.
"Future historians will want to define the year 2020 by COVID-19 and the election. Do not let them. Instead, force those historians to acknowledge that the class of 2020 helped define America's greatness," Myrvik said in conclusion.
Salutatorian Khloe Tieman and valedictorian Emily Nold also addressed the audience.
Tieman noted that for some, their senior year in high school would be one of the best years of their lives, adding, "but for others, the best is yet to come." She said their experiences have made the graduates what they are and thanked those who helped them on their journey.
"As we walk across this stage," she told her classmates, "we should be proud of ourselves. We did it!"
Nold talked about their senior year, which was altered when Gov. Kristi Noem asked school districts to close their facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to educate students using distance learning. She referenced the class motto: "The finish line is still six feet away."
"This was the reality of our senior year and no one saw it coming," she said.
She described senioritis and making plans for spring break, only to have that break extended through the end of the year.
"Within 24 hours, everything changed," Nold said. "We quickly realized our senior year as we knew it was at an end."
Her remarks, like those of other speakers, elicited laughter from the graduates and the audience. However, the class prophecy presented by Daniel Jaton and Brandon Trygstad was the comedic high point of the ceremony.
This was immediately followed by the most moving portion -- the graduates presenting sunflowers to their family members and the class video which depicted each graduate growing from infancy into young adulthood.
Diplomas were presented in the traditional manner with former school Superintendent Peter Books returning for the graduation ceremony. Superintendent Brian Brosnahan announced the scholarships received by the graduates.
The Rutland class of 2020 included 12 graduates. In addition to those previously named were Nakoska Anderson, Sydney Dekan, Seth DeVaney, Parker Handegard, Robert Malisch, Kayla Price, Koby Pust and Spencer Wosje.
The class flower was the sunflower. The class colors were white, black and silver.