DHS commencement highlights resiliency, strength of 2021 graduates

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The graduating class of Denison High School celebrate their accomplishments Saturday night during the annual commencement .

Over past year and a half, the Denison High School Class of 2021 saw many hurdles disrupt both education and daily life in ways very few other generations have seen.  From adjusting to remote learning and virtual lessons to attending in-person classes while friends and peers remained at home, this class has displayed great resiliency and determination in the face of uncertain times.

Now, that class is having its day.

More than 200 students from DHS crossed the stage at Munson Stadium Saturday night as a part of the district's annual commencement and graduation ceremony. While the festivities included the traditional thanks to teachers and family, the topic of the ongoing pandemic and how the class weathered it was a recurring topic.

"This past year has proven that we have the determination to enter into the real world no matter our paths — continuing our education, joining the armed forces or starting a career," DHS Class President Brody Coffin said. "If we can make it through this past year, we can make it through anything thrown our way."

The Denison High School graduate class of 2021 prepare to turn their tassels, symbolizing their graduate Saturday during the district's annual commencement.

Much like the past two years, Saturday's festivities were not without their own setbacks. Throughout the event, a steady rainfall pelted the stadium. Still, the event went out without any real notice to Mother Nature's intervention.

Coffin joked that when he stepped into the classroom this past year he had a running bet on how long the school would remain open before it was closed due to the pandemic.

"Way back in August, the seniors enters the very familiar halls of Denison High School and something was just off," Coffin said. "In all of our classes, we were missing about half of our class as those students had chosen to continue learning at home.

"I remember making bets in August that school would not remain open past the first two weeks. Well, 41 weeks later I have lost those bets as the only thing that managed to close DHS was six inches of snow."

Rather than look back at the past year as a hard time, Coffin encouraged his peers to look at the good that came out of the year, and reminded them that the hardship only strengthened them.

Denison High School Valedictorian Kaden Dunn gives a speech Saturday night at the 2021 commencement.

"School with this year's challenges was just more special," he said. "Keeping the axe for an eighth straight year was just more special. The class of 2021 is just more special."

The topic of the pandemic continued into the address by Salutatorian Aver Encalade, who applauded the students who made it through the pandemic and achieved the goal of graduating from high school.

"The past year and a half has brought many challenges and changes that have tremendously affected our high school experience, but we continued to take each new obstacle in stride."

Encalade took a moment to remember three people who played a part in the 2021 class achieving it successes who were not in attendance Saturday. She thanked teachers Rachel Ramer and Katie Palmer, along with classmate Zachary Alvarez. Alvarez died in 2017 following a period of illness, while Ramer died in 2018 after a long battle with cancer. Palmer, who passed away last spring after being struck by a motor vehicle while out walking, was the most recent death to affect the 2021 class..

"Our time in high school has been dotted with highs and lows that have been proving our strength as a student body," Encalade said. "Through these experiences, we have learned to depend on each other and lift each other up. I look out at the audience and see a group of people who have been there for me."

Valedictorian Kaden Dunn spoke during the height of Saturday's storms. Still the rain, which soaked his podium, did little to phase him in his speech.

Dunn spoke both on the past year, while also reminiscing on the class' entire high school career.

Denison High School held its 2021 Spring Commencement Saturday evening. During the event, the school graduates more than 200 students in its senior class.

"You can make the best of a bad situation because you are overcomers," he said, noting the adaptations, mask wearing and technology shifts that occurred.

The final commencement speech was given by City Council Member Brian Hander, who graduated from DHS in 2008. During his speech, Hander encouraged the graduating class to return to Denison so that they can help lead the next generation in the city.

"I want you to go from here, experience great adventures, pursue what you are passionate about, seek out worthwhile opportunities and then return to Denison," he said. "We need the next generation of leaders to come together and take a stand for our city's future."