BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – It’s been anything but a normal final year of high school for more than 200 area public school seniors.
Fort Madison High School and Central Lee High School held live graduation ceremonies over the weekend. Ceremonies that, up to less than four weeks ago, weren’t guaranteed.
“Welcome to the ceremony that wasn’t meant to be,” said Fort Madison High School Principal Greg Smith at Saturday’s Bloodhound commencement.
“We are happy for every little thing we can get in this day in age, so welcome and we’re glad you here.”
The Bloodhounds walked just more than half of the graduating seniors across the stage on Saturday morning in crimson and black gowns and mortarboards with about 10 wearing “Black Lives Matter” face coverings.
Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said graduations across the country are being watched by the nation.
“You did not get to end your journey in a traditional way and that doesn’t have to be OK with you,” Slater said.
“Your journey is yours. You own it. But you’re never alone.”
FMHS senior Gracie Gobble, a co-student body president, said 2020 was a year of loss for many that touched the lives of the student body.
“This has been a season of terrible losses. People have lost their lives and family members. Others have lost their jobs, their savings and plans for the future, Gobble said.
“Many of us I know have suffered these things, too.”
She said it may have seemed foolish to feel sad about potentially losing a graduation ceremony.
“But I disagree,” she said.
“For decades students have walked across this stage, shaken their principal’s hand, and moved their tassle to other side of their cap.”
She said the coronavirus changed the way we live and on the evening of March 15, a senior weekend, turned into a four-week weekend. On April 17, “the truth set in” that they wouldn’t be finishing their senior year.
“We never got to say goodbye and thank our favorite teachers. We did not have that final assembly where we stood in the middle of the gym to sing, “School’s Out,” she said.
“Fortunately, we were able to come together once last time, and that makes this even more meaningful to be standing delivering this speech to you today.”
Jada Sheppard told her fellow classmates she was proud of each and every one of them. And, specifically this year, they shouldn’t take anything for granted.
Central Lee High School Principal Nicole Herdrich called the Hawks commencement a “slightly different, yet very special graduation ceremony”.
“The last few months have been very different, to say the least, and difficult. But it is my sincere hope the graduates and their families have felt both loved and supported by the Central Lee Community School District,” Herdrich said.
She said despite the success of the simulated graduation ceremony, a move that both Central Lee and FMHS participated in due to the uncertainty of an in-person commencement, the traditional ceremony helped put a final touch on the year.
“We are here together to help celebrate your high school graduation. I’m so happy, and to be honest, very relieved, that we were able to hold this live graduation ceremony, because I don’t like to take back promises to some of my favorite people,” she said.
The Class of 2020 was in first grade with Herdrich through fifth grade. Then four years ago she assumed a leadership role again with the students when they entered the high school.
Herdrich compared the students to the Iowa native geodes, which are tough and rugged on the outside, but sparkle on the inside.
“Live your passion and share your interests. Value relationships, communicate openly and be committed. Most of all love… and be loved,” Herdrich said.
Vanessa Hupp said adversity was one of the final lessons these seniors will take from high school.
“We’ve been able to adapt and overcome adversity like no other graduating class,” Hupp said.
“I don’t think that great things come from playing it safe,” Hupp said. “You have to take risks and put yourself out there into the unknown. In any given moment we have two options – to step forward into growth or step back into safety. Graduation isn’t the end, it’s the beginning.”