It may have happened more than a month after the last day of classes, but the graduating seniors of the Detroit Lakes High School Class of 2020 finally received their diplomas Sunday afternoon, June 28, at Mollberg Field.
Reminders of the coronavirus pandemic that delayed DLHS's 130th annual commencement ceremonies were everywhere, from the masks that students and faculty were required to wear, to the lack of spectators in the stands, though several well-wishers could be seen outside the fence, watching the ceremony from afar.
The program began in much the same fashion as previous graduation observances, with the seniors marching toward their seats to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance." But the very fact that said march was taking place on a football field rather than inside the high school gymnasium — the first outdoor graduation ceremony to be held this century, in fact — lent a surreal touch to the proceedings.
The lack of a concert choir present to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" furthered the impression that this would be a graduation like no other, though soon-to-be graduates Benjamin Heimark and Maci Bellefeuille rose to the occasion and performed the national anthem a cappella, drawing loud cheers from their classmates as it concluded.
In his welcoming address, graduating senior Grant Gallatin asked for a moment of silence in memory of senior classmate Clayton Lehrke, who died on Dec. 27, and referenced the historic nature of this year's ceremony.
"Puzzles are fun," Gallatin said. "Whether it be a 16-piece puzzle that took you 10 minutes to finish, or a 750-piece puzzle that it took your family four afternoons to complete, there's something intriguing with the challenge of finishing a puzzle."
Gallatin added that for most people, the first step in completing a puzzle is to look at the picture on the box it came in, to see where the pieces might fit.
"That's the hard thing about life," he said. "You're given all the pieces, and you don't get to see the big picture. To many of us, that's scary. We don't know where we're going to be in the future, and we're not sure how we're going to get there ... but this can also be the greatest thing about life, because we get to choose the end goal. We get to choose the picture that we work toward.
"Life's going to get challenging, real quick," he continued, "but with two things, we can make it a lot easier — discipline, and resilience. ... When you put all the pieces together, and you put in the work, that picture will be who you want to be, and that picture can help you accomplish any goal you want. At the end of the day, find joy in the journey, find satisfaction in the struggle, because my friends, puzzles are fun."
Doug Froke, whose 13-year tenure as Detroit Lakes Public Schools superintendent was to end Tuesday, June 30, talked about how he and the Class of 2020 had started their Detroit Lakes educational journey together back in 2007 — and now, they are completing that journey together.
"I think we had a pretty good 13-year run, didn't we?" he said. "I enjoyed you guys a lot."
Froke referenced one of his favorite television series, "The Office," and one of the parting lines of character Andy Bernard, when the show went off the air: "I wish there was a way to know when you were in the good old days, before you actually left them.
"To the Class of 2020, and the 130th graduating class of Detroit Lakes High School, while you are leaving one phase of the good old days, and have completed one life project, you are now entering the new version of the good old days," Froke said. "Keep that in mind as you move forward, with your Laker sails full of wisdom, skill, and the grit to take on life in this new normal. Congratulations, and thanks for letting me be a part of your good old days."
The festivities also included remarks from graduating seniors Micah Solberg and Daniel Heikes, along with school board chairwoman Amy Erickson, high school teacher Mike Labine, and principal Darren Wolf.
After the program had concluded, the seniors went back to their cars, parked around the field, and watched as a lengthy parade drove past, consisting of school buses, fire trucks, police squad cars, and hundreds of vehicles festooned with balloons, banners and hand-painted messages, as well as honking horns and shouted messages of congratulations, sending off the Class of 2020 in style.