One year after high school seniors nationwide endured the disappointment of makeshift graduation ceremonies due to COVID-19, the Wauseon High School Class of 2021 last Sunday welcomed a much more traditional commencement.
Held in the auditorium with all of the traditional pomp and circumstance, the high school’s 141st commencement proceeded with enough normalcy to overshadow the slight alterations of some masking and limited guests.
“All students are extremely excited to leave here as official graduates today,” senior class president Loren Starkweather announced in her opening statements.
The ceremony was hosted by WHS Principal Keith Leatherman, who told those in attendance, “It has taken a lot of hard work throughout grades K through 12 to get students to this milestone occasion today. Wauseon is blessed with a teaching and support staff that is second to none.”
He listed among the achievements involving members of the Class of 2021: the district speech team state championship; a gold rated FFA chapter including five earned state degrees; 13 NWOAL championships; a wrestling team dual state championship; 57 honor students; and 11 ACT scores of 28 or higher.
Following a musical selection by the Senior Ensemble, Wauseon Board of Education member Stacia Radabaugh announced seniors being inducted into the school district’s Academic Hall of Fame for their place among the top 5% of the 2021 class: Noah Becker, attending Miami University to study biochemistry; Tyson Britsch, attending Ohio State University to study biology; Mykah Garrison, attending Trine University; Hunter Nofziger, attending Capital University to study accounting; Emily Parker, attending Miami University to study nursing; and Chelsea Raabe, attending Lourdes University to study accounting.
In his address, Superintendent Troy Armstrong told the seniors he was glad they received the commencement they’d worked toward.
Referring to last year’s graduation ceremony, held in a school parking lot, Armstrong said, “Last year, standing under the sun, looking at the graduates in their cars, I shared that, in May of 1987, I stood before my class and spoke about the future. The future I spoke about never included a pandemic. I’m glad we’re able to gather together today in this very traditional manner and celebrate your commencement.”
He told the graduates to learn from their experiences, and said they won’t always find success easy.
“I encourage you to expect failures but strive for success, and make the success your own future,” Armstrong said. “During your journey, please use all the skills you have learned during your years at Wauseon schools. Trust this learning, and no matter where you go, make that place better.”
Student speaker Loren Starkweather, who earned a 3.9 grade point average and immersed herself in numerous extracurricular activities, said she chose the future as her address topic, but found it difficult to get started.
“I finally understood why I was unable to write about the future. I was afraid…,” Starkweather said. “The pressure of knowing exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life the moment you walk out of these doors today can be especially terrifying. However, if, whether you are attending college in the fall, taking time off or entering the workforce, it is important to remember that what you do is not as important as how you do it.”
She added: “Life is full of surprise and change. Moving forward, strive to pursue all goals and unexpected challenges with passion, courage, and determination.”
Under the restrictions of COVID during their junior and senior years, the graduates “learned a very valuable lesson, and that is how to adapt…There’s a certain beauty in being able to find joy and fulfillment in the unexpected,” Starkweather said. “As we go out into the world today, I hope you’ll experience as much as you can. Make every step of your past count; set goals and reach them; never stop learning; do not allow yourself to be ignorant; be kind to others and be kind to yourself. Most importantly, do not idle through life. Live on purpose.”
The second student speaker, Tyson Britsch, earned a 4.0 GPA, was a National Honor Society member, lettered in sports, and was twice student council president.
“This new phase of life is, in a way, looking back to your past…So many new challenges and opportunities were waiting for us, and with an infinite amount of opportunities and challenges an infinite amount of possible failures were right there, too,” he told his peers. “I think it’s pretty safe to say there isn’t a single person sitting before me that managed to escape high school without failing miserably more times than they can count. But look at us – we’re here, we’re breathing, we made it out alive. Not just alive, but thriving.”
Britsch challenged the graduates to never back down from a challenge that stands between them and their goals “Each and every one of you has the potential to be something extraordinary,” he said.
As a final nod to the difficulties COVID-19 wrought on the Class of 2021, class vice president Haleigh Wurst told class members, “We’ve gone through so many highs and unexpected lows together, and we’ve endured the seemingly unendurable this year. We have missed out on several firsts and several lasts, but we never failed to handle ourselves with grace.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.