From the top of the Board of Education to the families from across the nation, Manhattan High School welcomed countless families and friends to Bill Snyder Family Stadium to see the classes of 2020 and 2021 graduate Friday night.
Seeking a “positive end to this year”, Assistant Principal Larry Myers says it’s been a tough year, and the students have worked really hard persevering through all the difficulties of the pandemic to ultimately make it.
“I think it’s kind of a celebration for the whole school that we’ve made it this far, and we get to celebrate on a positive note,” Myers said. “It was hard to plan and, and hard to manage a lot of times, but we got through it. So the triumph is that that we made it through and and I think people started to understand as we went through it longer and longer that the difficulty was not necessarily our fault. We were just managing what, what we could.”
Speaking to how Myers felt these students will fare going into the world with the challenges that COVID has presented for them, he assumes that their character and efforts will make them stronger.
“They’re going to be emotionally strong you know. This year was such a challenge and to know that you come through it and made it through, even if this was not their greatest academic success, at least they made it through and learning that perseverance and how important that is,” Myers said. “I just think they’re going to be stronger, you know, character wise and just the whole understanding that something that was this difficult and they made it through, and I think it’s going to make them stronger people.”
Senior Speaker Nicole Savage says this ceremony is the culmination of expectations, the pinnacle of what so many worked so hard for, and just being able to be recognized for all the years that they’ve put into studying.
“It’s not just my graduation I’m celebrating, it’s all my friends that I’ve spent so many years working alongside and hanging out with, and we all get to celebrate together. Because we’re graduating together, you don’t ever graduate alone,” Savage said. “Corona made me realize how much I missed my friends in my life, we started setting regular hangouts, whether it was online or in person. So that definitely changed. I feel like I definitely enjoyed closer bonds with people because I realized how much I missed them. It made me cherish and value and appreciate what little we could do this semester when we could do smaller plays or smaller things. I love them even more, because I had a chance to go without them for a bit.”
Savage is looking to head next to Utah Brigham Young University, looking to either pursue a STEM field or potentially theater, focusing on directing, playwriting or cinematography.
Not all those in attendance were class of 2021, as G.M., a senior who graduated last year and went on to complete Army Basic training before returning, says that it’s like going back in time and doing something that he already passed, and was accomplishing things he already achieved.
“Going back is just like, “Wow, I was here!” But I don’t want to be here, kind of. For other people it’s like going back and seeing what they’ve done and looking at what they’ve achieved. To say I really did it, like a lot of them are doing it. Some people are doing it to show off because they have like the ribbons. But others are like, I wanted to do this. I’m doing it for my family because my sister’s graduating,” G.M. said. “It seems like it’s gonna be a fun, or at least somewhat fun for two hours. But personally, I could be doing something else for two hours, but for everyone else, it’s like watching and seeing some old friends from high school. It’s nice being there seeing them walk. It’s also nice as an event as a whole.”
Coming all the way from North Carolina, Terrel Cameron, uncle to graduate Tamayia Washington, says it was an honor to be there and took pause in seeing her transition from a young woman to a new person.
“To see all the kids during what they’re going through with the pandemic and everything is really good. To see them actually, come out and still be able to graduate, still be able to function as a family, that’s how I look at it. So me being a barber, and having to deal with this pandemic, I think it’s a good thing to see these kids, actually be able to do something,” Cameron said. “As far as them working and learning how to work by themselves, learning how to figure something out, it’s so crazy. Just invest in your own, don’t sell yourself short. It can be a business, it can be a trade, it can be anything, and generally, their schoolwork, they learned now is a lot harder than just always having somebody to tell you something. You’ve got to figure it out somewhat. When you’re home dealing with the pandemic, if you can’t be around so many people, you’ve got to learn how to function on your own. So I feel like high school is a good thing, being under that pressure.”
Self-proclaimed “Proud Dad” Larry Darden, to graduate Laila Aliest, says he’s shocked that she made it this far because it’s tough getting here, as you have to be academically sound, and want to succeed.
“A lot of kids give up because school is not their thing, but my baby made it all the way. She wants to play basketball, she’s trying to go to Kansas State after this, as long as she keeps things grounded. She’s got the drive, and wants to be in school, so I’m just so proud of it,” Darden said. “To be honest, I don’t know if anybody’s prepared for the world, because the masks is the new norm, but I got vaccinated. I know she’s conquered everything that has come her way. Sometimes it might be scary to me, but I think she has no problem. She’s a strong black woman.”
Reflecting on all that it took to make this graduation a reality and getting through the pandemic, Myers closed with the thought that as the district works together with everything that they did, they talked ahead of time.
“Whether it was from the the superintendent, or from the school board, it was always that we discuss things and work together to get through this. You can’t do it by yourself and that’s what school is all about, understanding that you need to discuss things and plan things and look forward and never be worried about what’s happened in the past. You got to just keep moving forward, and working together as the kind of the motto of the of the district and education in general,” Myers said. “It’s been a positive experience, as it started out as what could have been a negative experience at the beginning, but it’s turned into something positive because of all the work that was put in by the administrators and teachers and the students. We’ll be able to look back some day and realize how hard it was, but also how much it paid off at the end, with all of our hard work.”