As the sun set on Panaca, a convoy of vehicles could be seen making its way out to the Perkins home just outside of town. There, in the dying light of a beautiful Friday afternoon, hundreds of well-wishers, family and educators gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of a senior class that experienced a historic and unfortunate end to their high school experience.
Once the audience gathered in the field next to the Perkins’ home, the graduates walked in pairs to the stage while “Pomp and Circumstance” played in the background.
This was not, however, the official graduation ceremony. While businesses and government entities are slowly opening services back up to the public after the COVID-19 pandemic, the quarantine still stands. The graduates were, however, able to receive their diplomas alongside their families at the Rich Phillips Gym. One student graduated at a time and was allowed seven family members in attendance. After receiving their diploma, students each had a small photoshoot. This was the best the school district could do under the circumstances, but the community believed students deserved more, leading to the graduation celebration at the Perkins’ place.
The event began with the singing of the National Anthem by Jayden Heaton, followed by a few words from Dylan Robinson, the senior class president. After he thanked the Perkins for their help in providing a location for the ceremony and introduced the events of the night, valedictorian Chance Christensen was introduced by his good friend Richard Katschke. Christensen’s remarks centered on how having plans and goals is important, but they aren’t everything. COVID-19 changed people’s lives, according to Christensen, and he had to learn to focus on individual steps to get through everything.
“Happiness doesn’t lie in your goals or your quest,” he said, “it’s in what we find along the way.”
Macy Howard then introduced salutatorian Sadie Soderborg. She talked about how the last three months were supposed to be the best three months of her high school career, but she recognized there are silver linings to the COVID-19 quarantine: “At least we hold the record for the longest Senior Ditch Day!”
Soderborg went on to draw parallels to her favorite film, “Tangled,” and talked about how Rapunzel is stuck at home as well, albeit much longer. In that same vein, she talked about dreams and how, in the film, Rapunzel is told about how she has the chance to find a new dream. Soderborg said this class now had the same kind of opportunity.
She brought up a hilarious story about Mason Thornock and Dean Otley drawing “interesting” pictures on their erasers in elementary school. It turns out that Pete Peterson found those same erasers while cleaning out his desk, and so, with great pride and a lot of laughter, they were presented back to their original artists. Soderborg’s final comment was directed to all the kids entering high school this next year, encouraging them to “make the most of it” and be involved.
The guest speaker that the graduates chose was Rick Phillips, the namesake of the LCHS gym, and a legendary leader who has earned himself the nickname “Coach.” Phillips talked about how this class in particular had to go through some uncharted territory in the last few months, but he and many others were impressed by how the students persevered through the quarantine. He talked about how it made each of them stronger and how they could now use that strength to, as he put it, “Do hard things.”
Phillips’ comments centered around what these graduates would need to get through life and be successful. From personal relationships to education to work, Phillips said students would need to be committed, persevere, be mentally tough, be aggressive, have pride in themselves and their community, and most of all, have fun. He encouraged students not to compare themselves to others and noted that everyone was very proud of the seniors and knew they would do great things.
“Don’t work so hard that you forget to have fun,” Phillips joked.
Following these remarks, the new student body president was sworn in, led by Cody Zile, and then a slideshow was presented with photographs of each of the graduates throughout the years. Each of the graduates was individually recognized, and then the graduates were free to get ready for a parade put on by the community.