Surviving, Embracing Change

After having to cancel last year’s planned commencement activities due to COVID-19, Principal Flaherty and this year’s graduating class are looking forward to returning to an in-person ceremony.


Jayden Ketola

Senior, Commencement Speaker, Thomas Chicka stands on the football field where graduation will take place Saturday, June 5 at 1:00 p.m.

By Andy Wolfe , Advisor

Thomas Chika, this year’s graduation speaker, and his 320 classmates have seen more change in the last four years than almost any other graduating class since 1966. After all, they saw a new three-story academic building rise during their freshman year in 2018 and then watched their beloved circle torn down. Then in 2020 and 2021 they saw their own bedrooms and homes become educational spaces as they sometimes attended school virtually. 

Principal Rick Flaherty understands all this class has had to endure as he leads his team of staff volunteers in preparing for a June 5 graduation that will return to in-person, unlike last year’s online, virtual commencement ceremony. New changes are still in store. For the first time, the graduation will be held outdoors on the football field at the NBC Sports Complex at 1:00 p.m. A recording of the orchestra – not a live version will be played. The choir will sing “Today My Life Will Begin” by Bruno Mars. And the entire ceremony will be broadcast on iFan. Also, promising a smooth and professional production, Corey Bonneyville will use Sounds Unlimited equipment to project the sound. District Administrator Amy Starzecki will receive the class as Flaherty presents them.

Flaherty said that “everyone has been stressed” for the past year and more, and that’s why he wants the seniors and their families to come together and share in something special.

 “You have to remember we were shut down for two months in the middle of the school year, we worked through that, we’ve held it together as much as possible, and I am just so thankful for the seniors and all the students, really, for their understanding and cooperation,” Flaherty said.

Each senior has been given the opportunity to invite four family members or friends to attend, Flaherty said, and then they will be asked to sit together as a “family unit” and wear masks since, “at this time we are still following the guidelines for schools that the CDC has put out. A lot of the students are still not vaccinated.”

But Flaherty said, as of May 13, that “everything is subject to change.” 

“Change” could be the mantra of the class of 2021, it’s theme they’ve been forced to live by. It’s that idea of change that called Thomas Chika to apply to speak at the graduation. He said he’s been thinking of what he wants to say since he sat in the old gym and watched his older brother, Jonathan, graduate three years ago.

“We have the ability to change problems that have been issues for decades. We have the power to enact change,” Chika said. “High school isn’t the best four years of your life. Your best years are ahead.” 

Assistant Principal Andrea Sorenson sees change as a reward for the seniors, who, she said, “are very glad they have something more this year unlike last year’s graduation. They are also happy that it is something new and different.” She is grateful for their “perseverance” through a difficult year.

One of the difficulties of the past year was created by the two-cohort schedule, which split the students in half. Students, like Senior Max Reed, with a last name in the latter half of the alphabet were assigned to Cohort B.

“I think it’ll be exciting to see the kids from the A cohort since I don’t get to see them at school,” Reed said.

During commencement many seniors are likely to recall moments with friends over the past four years. Many of Chika’s memories are tied to the changes his class has endured, but also to the extracurricular activities they participated in together. He specifically recalled a moment in his junior year sitting with theater friends in the PAC in February 2020 and discussing what they would do regarding the Coronavirus hitting the United States. 

“‘We will be fine,’ we said. It’s overseas. It won’t affect us much. They won’t cancel school. That won’t happen,” Chika said. “It was the last day before spring break, and we had been preparing for the Starmites spring musical.”

During Spring Break of last year, the state of Wisconsin closed all schools. Shortly thereafter the Superior School District released an announcement stating that the entire district would stay closed through the end of the year.

No one was ever really the same again. Chika said that he realizes now just how “naive” he and his classmates were. And now he wants to see his classes come together one last time, to be empowered as they look back. And as they look ahead, he wants them to give power to change.

According to the Senior Plans Survey sent out April 26, 76% of the 104 seniors that responded that they are already accepted to college.   

Chicka is one of those anticipating his post-secondary next fall will be attending Northern Michigan State University for nursing. 

“You should try to make your future better than your past,” Chika said.

Reporting assistance was given Co-Spin adviser Christa Kalin.