Park Rapids Area High School graduated 81 students on a warm, sunny Sunday, May 30 on the football field. It was the school’s 123rd annual commencement.
Graduation speakers were co-salutatorians Analise Smee, Ellie Gwiazdon and Shailyn Pachel, who was also class vice president, and co-valedictorians Brenna Behrens and Ellie Ulvin, who was also the class president.
In her opening remarks, Smee welcomed the graduates to their future and thanked everyone who helped them along the way, “from staying late at our events to giving us a shoulder to cry on when we needed it most. Without your support, we may not have made it this far, and I’d say we’ve made it pretty far.”
Smee said that despite the adversity caused by COVID-19, the Class of 2021 grew stronger while learning that “not everything is guaranteed, and you need to learn to be grateful for what you have.”
Gwiazdon revived memories of going to school with her classmates since 2008, from kindergarten nap times and elementary field trips through middle school relationships and high school spirit weeks.
“I thank you for all the fun memories we’ve had together, and I look forward to the new memories coming,” she said. “Don’t forget, though, there is always a bright side to each event and many adventures ahead.”
‘Bet on yourself’
Ulvin shared words of wisdom from the late basketball star Kobe Bryant, whose widow said that Kobe used to say, “If you’re going to bet on someone, bet on yourself.”
“I’m going to challenge you to bet on yourself from here on out,” Ulvin told the crowd. “I challenge you to be driven, to be relentless in the pursuit of what feeds your soul. Put in the extra hour. Do the extra rep. Get the extra scoop of ice cream. … Your hard work will prove to yourself that you are your own best bet.”
Ulvin acknowledged that everyone’s success looks different, adding, “If and when you don’t succeed, always fail forward. Pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and learn from the failure and keep going.”
She also noted that “your best self isn’t only about your own successes. It’s about bettering yourself as a human and bringing others with yourself on that adventure.”
Behrens quoted tennis star Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”
To start, she reminded graduates that throughout their school years, “we were learning how to be decent human beings. While we were learning things like adding and subtracting, we were also learning how to use our manners and how important it is to be kind.”
Behrens also reflected on her classmates’ variety of talents. “The sooner we learn that we all have something different to bring to the table and accept our gifts,” she said, “the better of we will be. You were given these special gifts for a reason. Now it is our turn to go out into the world and discover what that reason is.”
She also urged classmates not to hold themselves up against unrealistic expectations. “I think it is especially important to remember you can only do your absolute best, and then just step back and let whatever is gonna happen happen. You can only do what you can do.”
In her farewell remarks, Pachel said she feels lucky to be part of a small graduating class. “This allows us all to become friends with nearly everyone, and grow together to develop almost a family dynamic, where we can lean on each other and learn from one another.”
She expressed a dislike of endings but acknowledged that they are inevitable. “Today is one of those days for all of us,” she said. “As Winnie the Pooh once said, ‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!’”
After wishing her classmates success in their coming lives, Pachel concluded, “May this not be a goodbye, but more of a ‘see you later.’”
Special music included Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” Johnnie Vinson’s “Soul Bossa Nova” and Larry Neeck’s “Midnight Escape,” all performed by the high school band directed by John Cook; and Jay Althouse’s “Homeward Bound” sung by the concert choir, directed by Leandra Craigmile.
According to the graduation program, senior class colors were orange and black. The class flowers were white rose with white jasmine. The class motto was “With every ending, there is a new beginning.”