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Students from Madras, Bridges and Culver high schools graduated in three ceremonies Saturday, June 5

HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER - Madras High School graduates toss their hats into the air during graduation Saturday.

Saturday, June 5 was a celebratory bookend to an unprecedented school year when 236 high school seniors graduated in Jefferson County in three separate commencement ceremonies.

This was the first time the Jefferson County School District 509-J alternative school, Bridges High School, held a ceremony independent of Madras High School. A total of 51 Bridges students earned diplomas, although not all participated in the 9 a.m. ceremony at the football stadium. A Madras High School ceremony followed at 11:30 a.m. with 137 graduates.

This was the first year for the Culver High School graduation to be outside. The ceremony began at noon in the sports complex, honoring the 48 graduates.

The pandemic and the fact that Jefferson County remained in the high-risk category for COVID-19 affected the number of guests each graduate was allowed. Bridges students were allowed six guests each, while Madras High School grads were only allowed two guests in the stadium. Culver students could have four guests each.

Bridges High School

The 51 graduating Bridges High School seniors have faced more than their share of adversity in the last year.

"Every time it happens, you rise up, and you challenge and conquer it," said Principal Jay Weeks during his welcoming address. "Instead of letting it take you down, you win."

 - Bridges High School graduate Jeremiah Zacarias celebrates with the dab after getting his diploma during commencement Saturday.He commended the students for not only learning to rise above a challenge, but for rising above adversity.

During her "Life's Journey" speech, college and careers teacher Rosalynn Jaeger told the seniors that graduation is a major step in their life's journey that they should be proud of.

"A high school diploma is a wonderful tool, one that opens up many doors of opportunity for anyone who is lucky enough to have one, and today, that's all of you," she said. "Graduation serves as a launching point to wherever your future is meant to take you."

During a tender part of commencement, each graduated presented a white rose to one special person who had been there for them throughout their education.

"Thank you to families for supporting them in the face of adversity," Weeks said.

The five Jefferson County School District Board members then took turns handing students their diplomas, and Weeks presented the Bridges class of 2021.

HOLLY SCHOLZ/MADRAS PIONEER - A total of 137 class of 2021 students graduated from Madras High School.

Madras High School

"Thank you" was the message from Madras High School administrators during the windy but sunny and warm commencement welcoming address.

Principal Brian Crook and vice principals Mark Stewart and Dan Barendse thanked the grads for putting up with distance learning, social distancing and masks. They had to deal with cohorts, lovely lunch dividers, CASA online learning, surveys and canceled activities. The three leaders thanked the students for being flexible during the pandemic.

Language arts and AVID teacher Tammie Schongalla told the students to remember the little things and the small moments of their education.

Student speaker Hannah Holliday thanked all those who had supported them along the way.

"What a year," she said. "Not only did we survive high school, we survived a global pandemic while going to high school. Not very many people can say they have done that."

Saul Morales, the second student speaker, shared memories of their high school years and noted how much they had changed since freshman year.

"I guess it's time to say good-bye to what we knew as we look towards our future together," he said. "You're the writer, and up until this point, you've had a paper where you were told to fill in all the blanks, but now you've got yourself a book with many blank pages, so it's time for you to decide where you'll go, what you'll do."

School board members alternated handing out the diplomas, and then valedictorian Karson Hartman and salutatorian Kylie Borchert led their class in the turning of the tassel before the graduates tossed their mortarboards into the air.

Culver High School

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER - Culver's Valedictorian Haley Ivie gives an address.Robes billowed and mortarboards cartwheeled off graduates' heads, but the high winds only elevated the joy of the occasion as the Culver High School class of 2021 celebrated completing 12 years of education.

Event organizers held the ceremony outdoors with limited attendance and separated seating to allow social distancing. The worldwide pandemic has made the past year and a half most unusual and difficult, yet 48 students met the challenge and received their diplomas.

Principal Josh Davis encouraged graduates to make their lives count. "Set out a path to follow and stick to it. There will be many challenges ahead of you as the world continues to change."

Valedictorian Haley Nicole Ivie encouraged fellow classmates to push themselves. "Take risks and opportunities. Don't be afraid to ask questions," says Ivie. "As quoted by Nora Roberts, 'If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. If you don't step forward, you're always in the same place.'"

Salutatorian Brody Samson Little suggested the class of 2021 should "chill and enjoy the best moments in life. No matter how difficult life gets, I want us all to find the positives in life. Don't worry, be happy. Peace."

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