Ely grads “ready to soar”

Class of 22 gathers one last time for commencement ceremony

by Tom Coombe
Before diverging on an array of educational and career paths, Ely’s high school graduating class gathered one last time to reflect and celebrate.
Commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2022 were held June 3 at Veterans Memorial Field, with 29 of the 30 graduates taking part before an audience of hundreds at the historic ballpark.
It was a far more typical affair than the 2021 graduation held in the same venue, and much more “normal” than the arena parking lot graduation held at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago.
A series of speakers looked back and ahead, offering memories and advice for a group that achieved much during their years in the Ely school system.
Principal Megan Anderson saluted the parents of the graduates, telling them “You’ve raised some pretty amazing young men and women. All too quickly these kids have grown up and now they’re ready to soar.”
Anderson cited the obstacles and challenges this class faced, including parts of three school years that were altered or disrupted because of the pandemic, as well as other changes including the ongoing school construction project.
“The past few years have felt like a bit of a circus,” Anderson said, pointing to distance learning as well as the project. “(Yet) you have all managed and done so amazingly well.”
Anderson used the words of showman P.T. Barnum and said “Trust me, they don’t know it yet but the world is going to love you.”
She also challenged the graduates, adding “No one made a difference by being like everyone else.”
High school director Sarah Mason, who is leaving the district at the end of the school year, delivered the commencement address.
Mason reflected both on her time in Ely and her experiences with the graduates.
“Sometimes I wish time would just stop,” said Mason.
Mason told the graduates that they’re entering a time when “there is no core curriculum - your entire life is an elective.”
Looking ahead to difficult times the group may face, Mason told them “Don’t take life so seriously. This too shall pass will apply to just about any situation.”
“Be open to listening to others who may think differently than you,” Mason told the graduates, some whom she taught for seven straight years. “Work to challenge your own opinion and ideas in order to strengthen your own... Sometimes change, while painful, is the catalyst to your next chapter.”
Saying farewell to the Class of 2022 and leaving Ely are both difficult, Mason added, and she pointed to a famed quote that “I wish there was a way to know you are in the good old days before you actually leave them.”
She also quoted Winnie the Pooh, closing with “how lucky are we to have something that makes saying good bye so hard.”
Valedictorian Micah Larson, one of three senior class speakers, offered similar sentiments adding “Don’t cry because it’s over - smile because it happened.”
Larson said the graduates were there that evening because of the contributions of an assortment of individuals, from their teachers to community organizations that gave generously to student activities, to their parents and families.
Graduate Jon Hakala, who was named salutatorian, led the class through an array of memories starting with their preschool years to experiences in elementary classrooms and the playground.
Harry Simons was the third class speaker and he reflected on the group’s first day of high school and advice that the time would pass by quickly.
“We wish we believed them at the time,” said Simons.
Simons said the class developed a bond with each other and those they came into contact with at the school.
“What makes this school special are the people in the building we experienced life with every day,” said Simons.
It’s a group that individually will pursue occupations and careers. Among the class are two future elementary school teachers, a pharmacist, a chef, an air traffic control dispatcher, a meteorologist and a U.S. Army infantry soldier, among many others.
“This is only the beginning of something new, something unknown, something exciting,” said Larson.
After performances by both the high school band and choir - a first since the 2019 commencement - Anderson presented the class to superintendent John Klarich and board chairman Ray Marsnik for presentation of diplomas.
Nearly half of the class- some 14 members in all - have the acclaim of being an honor student. That distinction requires a grade point average of 3.5 or above.
They are Bryce Fairchild, Charly Flom, Joseph Foster, Hakala, Drayke Hanninen, Larson, Sidney Marshall, Annikka Mattson, Gabriel Pointer, Gracie Pointer, Abigail Rehbein, Zachary Robbins, Katrina Seliskar and Kellen Thomas.
The honor students were part of a group that collected over $88,000 in local scholarship funds, and thousands more overall last month at the school’s awards day. More than 90 awards were distributed during a ceremony at Washington Auditorium.
Following the graduation ceremony, most of the seniors went into vehicles and were led down Sheridan Street for a relatively new local tradition - the parade of graduates.
Most also attended the annual all-night graduation party held at Vermilion Community College.