It's been a long, strange year of pivoting class schedules, hybrid and remote classes, as well as on-again, off-again sports and other extracurricular activities — but the Detroit Lakes High School Class of 2021 persevered, with roughly 220 seniors earning their diplomas at the 131st DLHS Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 29.

"Boy, I picked a doozy of a year to start a new job, didn't I?" joked Superintendent Mark Jenson during his remarks at the start of the day's festivities, following the welcome by graduating senior Matthew Tobkin.

Jenson added that he was "incredibly proud" of the graduating class. for "the creativity, patience, fortitude and flexibility that helped you to reach this day."

Detroit Lakes School Board Chairwoman Amy Erickson expressed similar sentiments, noting, "We hope you are as proud of yourselves as we are of you. Be proud of who you are ... and be proud of being a Laker."

Graduating senior Eleanor Staley talked about how "COVID took so much from us," but it couldn't take away the memories they shared.

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"We are strong, we are the future, and we are the change," she continued, adding, "I'm eager to see all the things this Class of 2021 can accomplish as we step out into real life, into the real world."

Staley and several other speakers that afternoon also took a moment to remember someone who should have been part of the Class of 2021: Chloe Love Conn, who was killed in a hiking accident near Lake Tahoe back in May 2017, at age 14. An empty chair, festooned with flowers, was set aside for her, near where the graduates were sitting.

An empty chair, draped in a red cap and gown and festooned with flowers, was set aside on Mollberg Field for Saturday afternoon's graduation ceremony. The chair was in memory of the seniors' longtime classmate, Chloe Love Conn, who was killed in a May 2017 hiking accident at age 14. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)
An empty chair, draped in a red cap and gown and festooned with flowers, was set aside on Mollberg Field for Saturday afternoon's graduation ceremony. The chair was in memory of the seniors' longtime classmate, Chloe Love Conn, who was killed in a May 2017 hiking accident at age 14. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

This year's commencement ceremonies also included some new, welcome additions, such as the use of a sign language interpreter, who stood up on stage next to the speakers.

Several Ojibwe customs were also added to the festivities, such as the inclusion of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe's flag as part of the Presentation of the Colors, and the playing of the Ojibwe Flag Song immediately following "The Star Spangled Banner."

The Detroit Lakes Little Turtles played and sang the Ojibwe Flag Song during Detroit Lakes High School's 131st annual commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 29 at Mollberg Field. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)
The Detroit Lakes Little Turtles played and sang the Ojibwe Flag Song during Detroit Lakes High School's 131st annual commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 29 at Mollberg Field. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)

Several graduating seniors also included eagle feathers in their graduation attire, as a nod to their Ojibwe heritage.

Other speakers during the ceremony included social studies teacher Kalen Malchow, whose humorous remarks drew several laughs from the seniors and spectators alike; and graduating senior Jessica Bolar. Besides the U.S. and Ojibwe anthems, other musical performances included "Have It All," by members of the Laker Singers and DLHS Concert Choir; and "The Bare Necessities," by senior members of the Detroit Lakes High School Band.