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Rugby High graduates 36 students in May 30 ceremony

By Sue Sitter - | Jun 5, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Rugby High graduates toss their mortarboards into the air in the Charlie Hanneman Gym May 30.

Thirty-six members of Rugby High School’s Class of 2021 walked into Charlie Hanneman gym for the last time as students May 30 and each one left ready to begin a unique journey into the future.

As an audience of family and friends gathered to see the graduates off, honor students Carson Mattern, Riley Grove and Callie Oppen shared their experiences at the school and told of plans to pursue careers that varied from electrician to nursing.

Superintendent Mike McNeff told the audience high school students in North Dakota had an advantage last year over those in other states, despite a beginning that required online classes and modified schedules. “There are many states that remained in virtual learning the entire school year,” he said. McNeff went on to thank the students and staff for cooperating to keep in-person classes and activities going.

Rugby High Principal Jared Blikre said this year’s graduating class would add to a total of 6,000 students who have graduated from the school to begin lives that made impacts on their communities, state, nation and even world.

Mattern thanked agriculture teachers Kristi Tonnessen, Kasey Okke and former teacher Travis Fritel for their support as he prepared for training as an electrician. Mattern spoke of experiences shared with his classmates, occasionally drawing a giggle from the audience.

However, Mattern and his fellow classmates all spoke of gratitude for the guidance they had at Rugby High. “If it were not for our teachers pushing us to do our best and try harder, we would not have accomplished the great things we have and would not be nearly as prepared for our lives and future,” Mattern said.

Grove, who plans to attend Arizona State University, thanked teachers, faculty, coaches, parents and the community for their support.

Grove spoke of the constant changes in school policies brought on by the global COVID pandemic.

“I hope we all use the lessons we learned during this crazy pandemic to grow and chase your dreams. We control our own futures and I hope you all remember this: When writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen,” Grove said.

Oppen, who plans to pursue a career in nursing, shared an inspiring story about her battle with anorexia and the importance of self-care.

However, like the other honor students, she sprinkled her speech with some lighthearted references to senior skip day and some other non-approved traditions.

“My class always kept the teachers on their toes. We were always up to something and that’s not an exaggeration,” Oppen said with a grin.

Oppen told the audience she preferred to say graduation marked the beginning of adulthood rather than “the real world.”

“To say the past 18 years of our lives have not been real or did not truly matter would be an absolute lie,” Oppen said.

“We are on a journey of making a life for ourselves,” she added. “It won’t be easy for us. There will be heartache, pain, failure and many other unpleasant things that we will have to endure. But just remember, it will be putting us on the path where we are supposed to be.”

“Every single one of us is on a different path,” Oppen added, explaining how milestones would be different for each member of the class.

Oppen gave her classmates advice, urging them to stay connected, check in on friends and find empathy even for people “who are straight-up nasty to you.”

“Remaining humble but knowing your boundaries is what will get you far in life,” Oppen advised.

Oppen also acknowledged that classmates might lose contact with each other over the years.

“Wherever you guys end up, I hope you’re happy and content with your lives,” Oppen said, adding, “I hope you live how you want to and do what you’ve always dreamed of doing. I hope you stay safe and always stand up for yourself. Above all else, I hope you guys keep kindness in your hearts.”

Graduates walked onstage to receive their diplomas, shaking hands with Blikre, McNeff, Pastor Nathan Steen and Kris Blessum, who represented the school board. Blessum’s daughter, Sarah, received a brief hug as her mom turned the tassel on her mortarboard.

After tossing their hats into the air, the graduates bowed their heads for Steen’s benediction. The band played the recessional. The Class of 2021 filed out to greet their families and begin the next chapter of their lives.

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