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County Students graduate after normal-"ish" year


The Malta High School Class of 2021 graduates held their ceremony at the Malta High School Gymnasium last Sunday. Photo by Pierre Bibbs

Forty high school seniors across Phillips County graduated over the past couple of weekends.

Each school was able to hold graduations without capacity restrictions for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic complicated things in the 2019-2020 year. The following are observations made by the Phillips County News reporters, who were able to attend all four high school graduation events.

Saco High School Graduates Six

The class of 2021 from Saco High School flipped their tassels from right to left on Saturday, May 22, in the Saco gym at 1:00 p.m.

After the processional of all of the honorees, Saco Superintendent Tanya Funk welcomed everyone to the days' ceremony.

Funk then asked senior class president Chayten Pippin to come to the podium and give his welcome. As he got to the podium, he was greeted with a standing ovation and loud hoots and hollers from the entire crowd. The whole community showing their support and gratitude for his fight against cancer and making it on time to graduation.

"It was awesome. All I could do was stand there and smile. It's an amazing feeling when you know everyone is with you." Pippen said.

After the ovation calmed down and Pippen welcomed everyone to the proceedings, Supt. Funk handed out the 8th-grade certificates to the class of 2025. Members of this class are; Jessa Marie Erickson, Blane Marshall Downing, Carter Zane A. Pippen, Laynee Grace Simpson, and Sandra Ivy Sones.

Next, Supt. Funk honored the 50-year graduation class of 1971. Members of this class are; Lyle Barnard, Richard Barnard, Brien Beadle, Janet (Scoles) Clark, Brian DePuydt, Cathy (Knudson) Donald, Bonnie (Hammond) Dallenbach, Loretta (Cummings) Haynes, Becky Marinko, Byron Nelson, Steve Simanton, Wayne Stahl, John Sunford, Rocky Tollefson*, and Denice Wolfe. (*Deceased)

Funk then recognized the members of the Saco school administration that were retiring that year, and the year previously, since they didn't get a chance to be recognized due to the pandemic.

Senior Jaydyn Erickson was next to approach the podium to introduce the guest speaker. A special moment for her as the guest speaker was not only a former employee at the Saco school but also and more importantly, her grandmother, Joyce Erickson.

Joyce Erickson gave her granddaughter a hug and then took the podium. She said it was a surprise and an honor that the class of 2021 asked her to speak at their graduation. She encouraged the class to follow their dreams and wished them luck in their endeavors. She then asked the class to "Get MAD". M.A.D. meaning Make A Difference. She asked the class to make a difference every day. Strive to make a difference in everything you set out to do.

The senior slideshow, prepared by Chayten Pippin, was shown next, followed by the class of 2021 flower ceremony.

Mrs. Amber Erickson then announced the scholarships that were won by the class.

It was then time for Supt. Funk and School Board Vice Chairman Jay Yeska to hand out the diplomas to the Saco High School Class of 2021.

Jaydyn Louise Erickson, Randy Jay Gairrett, Alexys Danielle Renee Perkins, Andre Jaron Perkins, Chayten Howard Pippin, Brent Bradly Jay Yeska.

Class of 2021 quote: "to accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe." – Anatole France

Whitewater celebrates three in the class of 2021

The Penguin Palace had a large crowd on Friday, May 14th, to celebrate the graduating class of 2021.

The Penguin Band played the processional as the honorees and dignitaries walked to the stage.

Class of 2021 member Mr. Beau Simonson handed the Class Key to Miss Hannah Hanley of the class of 2022.

Whitewater Superintendent Darin Cummings gave the welcome to the crowd and introduced the 2021 Salutatorian Award winner, Miss Kia Wasson.

Wasson then addressed the crowd. She said "Whitewater has taught me so many important life lessons. Somehow I have gone from that mischievous elementary student that stuck her tongue out at Mrs. Cummings, to writing this speech, decided where I'm spending the next four years of my life, and saying goodbye to my classmates."

She then thanked her mom and dad saying, "To my mom, my coach, my teacher, and my friend. You have been by my side through everything. Always pushing me to try new things, and to be passionate about the things I love. To my dad, my boss, my shoulder to cry on, and the most inspiring person I've ever met. Thank you for taking the time to teach me about basketball, coming to all of my games, and re-watching films to help me fix the little things. You are the reason I am the player I have become. You are the reason I fell in love with the game."

She then thanked all of the teachers and coaches for their time and attention. Then thanked her classmates saying she would be rooting for them from afar, wishing nothing but the best for them.

Next Supt. Cummings introduced the 2021 Valedictorian, Mr. Beau Simonson.

Simonson thanked everyone for being there and then said, "We did it! The biggest accomplishment up to this moment of our lives."

He expressed that it seemed like yesterday when he walked under the rookery for the first time as a high schooler and today would be his last.

He went on to tell everyone to strive to be the best you that you can be. Don't try to be like someone else.

He told both of his classmates that he knew they would find success in whatever they tried to do.

He thanked the teachers and coaches for gifting the class their immense knowledge and for their support.

He ended his speech with a quote he had recently heard.

"Always be yourself. Unless you can be a penguin, then always be a penguin."

Simonson added, "Some of us are just lucky to be both."

Supt. Cummings introduced Mrs. Heidi Cummings to hand out the scholarships that had been won to the class.

Beau Simonson then introduced the guest speaker for the graduation address, Mrs. Gretchen Boardman.

Boardman thanked the class for having her there as a guest speaker saying it was an honor.

She talked to the class about "Spreading your wings, and how sometimes the best part of life is coming back full circle."

Boardman talked to the class of 2021 about working hard for everything they do. To define success on their own terms, not what someone else considers success. To always set goals, both big and small, and to reset those goals after they are met. To always keep trying to reach for them.

She told the class to always find joy in what they do. To keep the values and morals that their parents and families have raised them up with. To keep being humble.

Boardman told them it's ok to have a hero, but to always be themselves and to keep chasing the hero in themselves. She reminded the class to always remember their family.

"Remember your family will always be there for you," Carnahan said.

After a very entertaining slide show of the class of 2021, they had their flower ceremony.

Then it was time for Supt. Cummings and Mr. Matthew Simonson to hand out the certificates to the 8th-grade class. The class of 2025 consists of Kinlie Cummings and Shelbi LaBrie.

It was then on to the reason everyone was there for, the awarding of diplomas to the class of 2021.

Kelsee Marie Cummings, Beau Matthew Simonson, and Kia Marie Wasson.

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." – Eleanor Roosevelt

Malta High School graduates 24 students

Things were relatively normal for the Malta High School Graduation Ceremony on Sunday, May 23.

In contrast to last year, the ceremony was held inside of the Malta High School Gymnasium as had been done for many years prior to the 2020 rendition, which was held at Mustang Field, due to the threat of Covid 2019.

The commencement began with Malta High School Principal Shawn Bleth welcoming those in attendance to the event.

"This is a day where students, parents, family members, school staff, and the community as a whole are able to share the pride of the accomplishments of the class of 2021," he said. "Graduation is truly an exciting time."

He urged parents to enjoy the day because it was the culmination of many years of hard work. He also shared that he was confident that this year's group was ready for the next phase of their lives.

He thanked the Class of 2021 for the manner of how they handled the past year, given the uncertainty and distractions that the COVID-19 pandemic brought.

After a few more words, Principal Bleth introduced the MHS Concert Choir, who performed We are the World, under the direction of Mrs. Nancy Murdock.

After the sounds of applause ended, Principal Bleth introduced the MHS Class of 2021 Salutatorian Sidney Meeks for her speech.

Meeks began by thanking Principal Bleth for his introduction and then began by affirming to her class that their day of graduation was finally here.

"1,375 days ago, we walked into this building as freshmen... and now overwhelmed with senioritis, we are finally finished and are ready to move into a new chapter of our lives," Meeks said.

She then gave a statement of thanks to those that helped the Class of 2021 get to this point in their lives.

She first thanked the teachers, who helped them learn even during times that they did not want to learn. She then thanked the community members for their constant support.

"From sponsoring ads in the newspaper and on the radio, to attending sporting and school events, we are truly blessed to have such great people in our lives," Meeks said.

She then thanked the families in attendance, including her family.

"Thank you for believing in me," Meeks said. "You have always set high standards and encouraged me when I needed it most. You made sure that I knew right from wrong, but most importantly, you taught me to stand up for myself and for what I believe in."

She said that as she wrote her speech, she reflected on the many memories that she had made of the years at Malta High School.

"As we leave here, we will not be remembered by our popularity, or our grades, or our achievements, but we will be remembered for the relationships that we have made and the kind of people that we were."

She acknowledged the different paths that the graduates will take, whether it be going to college or straight into the workforce.

She encouraged her classmates with a quote from Mandy Hale, which says, "Be good to people. You will be remembered more for your kindness than any level of success you could possibly attain."

"1,375 days ago we walked into this school building like the blank pages of an unwritten book, but we sure aren't the same people leaving now," Meeks said. "In such a short period of time, so much has changed, so many stories were written, everyone's is a little different, but one thing is certain, we will all be remembered. Thank you Class of 2021 for letting me be a part of your story."

Principal Bleth then introduced the Class of 2021 Valedictorian, Erica Smith.

Smith began with a humble tone, admitting that she was not the best public speaker.

"However, I am honored to be here today, on this special day, as we all gather to celebrate the journey that we have embarked on," Smith said.

She then expressed thanks to family and friends for being at the event to celebrate her class.

"I am beyond grateful to have been raised in such a great community, with the most loving and supportive people," Smith said. "I bet that I could speak for my classmates because they would all agree with me."

She pointed out that the year featured many "lasts" including the last first day of school, the last day of practice, last games, last test, and many more.

"This year, we not only faced many lasts, but we were also met with a lot of challenges as well," Smith said. "We learned to overcome whatever obstacle that was thrown at us with perseverance, gratitude, respect, and dignity."

She pointed out that during the fall, the football and volleyball teams were faced with a night of cancellations due to COVID-19, but that a major memory was made as the volleyball team took on the football team in volleyball, and that the football and volleyball were able to join together in class groups to compete in a game of flag football.

"Seniors being the ultimate team, of course," Smith said. "I hope that the event becomes a tradition because that was a blast."

Smith said that the class had been counting down the days even on the first day of freshman year, stating that they entered high school as teenagers but are now leaving MHS as young adults.

"There is a universal truth that we have to face, whether or not, we want to eventually everything ends," Smith said. "I have always disliked endings, last day of summer, the final chapter of a good book.... but endings are inevitable, leaves fall, we close the book and make new friends."

Smith then pointed to the fact that her high school friends were people that have grown together for the past 13 years.

"But as Winnie the Pooh said, 'How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,'" Smith said. "So, thank you class mates, for making these past 13 years so memorable. I wouldn't have wanted to spend it with anyone else."

She then said that her friends have become family to her, thanked Malta High School, and congratulated her classmates, wishing them well

The MHS Band then played How Far We Have Come, under the direction of Mr. Erik Engebretson.

After the song, Bleth stated that this year's class had completed their requirements by the state to graduate from high school and diplomas were then handed out to the students.

After the diplomas were presented and roses were handed out by the class to their friends and families, Malta Superintendent Matt Genger commended Barb Buechler, who has taught at Malta Public Schools for 35 years and is retiring after completion of the school year. He then ended the ceremony with a blessing over the class of 2021.

"Although lives and destinations are bound to change, be courageous, be bold, be adventuresome, and most importantly, be kind," Mr. Genger said. "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26.)"

Dodson Schools graduate seven from class fo 2021

Last Friday, May 21, Dodson High School graduated seven students at the Coyote Den, in conjunction with the school's kindergarten and middle school graduations.

Dodson Superintendent Gary Weitz started the high school event, by welcoming all in attendance.

"It's great to see the presence of support for these young people as they celebrate a milestone in their lives and look to embark on successful paths and building their lives ahead of them," Weitz said.

He again thanked the family and extended family of the students prior to introducing the event's guest speaker, Kelly (Cole) Radtke, a 1998 graduate of DHS, who earned chemistry degrees from The College of St. Benedict and Montana State University in Bozeman.

"She has pursued her goals, much like these young people will pursue their goals," Weitz said.

After her introduction, Radtke started her speech with a light-hearted joke.

"Don't grow up! It's a trick!" Radtke said quoting her daughter's T-shirt. "Here you guys are, you did it and grew up. Don't worry, I made the same mistake, and it isn't all bad."

She expressed thanks to the school and its graduating class, and said that it was an honor to have the opportunity.

She said that she went to her high school yearbook to remember what it was like to be sitting where the current graduates were sitting. She said that she couldn't remember the speaker during her graduation but the class was identical in size with seven graduates, and that night she spoke as a student.

"Choose your own path," she said.

She continued by saying that her experience in college was great for her, but that college was not a necessary path for success.

She encouraged the students to stop living by comparisons.

"Comparison is truly a thief of joy," Radtke said. "There will always be someone better than you at certain things. Prettier, wealthier, a nicer car, a better house, cooler vacations... Find joy in your own path."

She said that if you end up with a nicer car or house, you will be happy until you find a better one.

"You get to choose where you spend your time and energy, choose wisely, and don't worry about whatever the people across the street are choosing," Radtke said.

Also speaking that night were co-valedictorians Ireland Best and Sophia Hebert.

Best, a fourth-generation graduate of Dodson High was the first of the two to speak.

"This is a moment that many of us have been looking forward to and to think that school is coming to an end is both exciting and comforting," Best said.

She said that earlier this year, she was asked if she was going to miss her classmates. Initially, Best was unsure but as the year went along, culminating in her graduation night, Best said that she will indeed miss this year's odd group.

"I am going to miss seeing each other every day as well as our everchanging conversations that range from light-hearted topics to morbid, make you think, ones," Best said. "I couldn't have asked for a better group to share this amazing moment with today."

Best said that she believes that if you speak something into existence, sooner or later it will happen.

"We are on the precipice of greatness and we have the rest of our lives to prove it, and more," Best said. "I know that we are going to do great things after today. We have talked about it so much, that the universe, or whatever deity you believe in, owes it to us."

Then she pointed to the fact that her class has only lived 18 years, high school was only four of those years, and that there are many more to come.

"Let's not dwell in the past of what we did or did not do during (high school)," Best said.

Hebert was then introduced to speak. She addressed the classes' friends, families, teachers, and administrators.

"We did it and we are finally graduating," Hebert said.

She said that she was truly glad to be addressing those in attendance as co-valediction and that she wasn't nervous in that moment.

For the bulk of her speech, Hebert expressed thanks to those that have supported her and her classmates.

First, she thanked her parents Charity Ruiz and Mark Hebert.

"They will always have my back, whether it be with last-minute school projects or with reassuring words," Hebert said.

She went on to thank various faculty members including, Francine KillEagle, Wendy Hopkins, Tianna Bloomer, Alan Porter.

"I am awful at math and usually hate it, but when I went into his class, I know that I would always have help and an understanding face."

She went on to thank former Dodson teacher Natasha Doney, current Dodson faculty member Donna Young, and Superintendent Weitz.

Kia Wasson, Beau Simonson, and Kelsee Cummings are Whitewater High School's graduates. The ceremony took place on Friday, May 14. Photo by Mark Foss.

"Next is one of my best friends, Tiffany Cliff, she is my ride-or-die and I don't know what I would do without her," Hebert said. "She is my biggest inspiration who I will now and forever look up to."

She went on to thank a few other friends and said that she could mention many others, but it would take all night.

"I came to Dodson in sixth grade and as soon as I walked through the doors, I knew that this was where I was meant to be."

She ended her speech with a quote from Leslie Knope from the popular TV Show, Parks and Recreation "Let's break out a map. Not the old, out-of-date one that shows where we've been, but a crisp new one that shows where we might go. Let's embark on a new journey together. And see where it takes us."

After the speeches, the class shared slide shows, gave roses out to friends and family, and were presented their diplomas.


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