PHOTO STORY: Niles High School graduates Class of 2021

NILES – In a year of constantly adapting to COVID-19 mandates and precautions, the Niles High School class of 2021 handled one more last-minute change together: southwest Michigan spring weather.

Thursday evening, the Niles High School graduating class gathered outdoors 30-minutes earlier than originally scheduled at Viking Stadium. The change in schedule came hours before the ceremony, as rainstorms were predicted to have an earlier arrival than previously forecast.

The ceremony began with a student procession from the auxiliary gym to the seats on the field, overlooked by families in the stands, the wind picked up, and a light rain arrived. On Base Productions, DPM Events and Little Red Fern were on the grounds to make sure family members who could not attend the limited event were able to see and hear their loved one graduate.

“Tonight is a night of adaptation,” said Niles High School Principal Molly Brawley. “The whole year has been a year of adaptation.”

Graduating senior Ayana Lesniak was the first of several Vikings to give speeches during the ceremony.

“I want to welcome you to the 159th Niles High School commencement ceremony,” Lesniak said as she introduced the Niles Symphonic Band’s recording of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the Choir’s “Seasons of Love.”

Emily Carter spoke of the journey through high school, and the challenges the class had overcome. She quoted Arthur Ashe, an American professional tennis player, in her speech.

“Arthur Ashe said, ‘success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.’ Basically, the journey is significant,” Carter said. “So, go pursue your dreams because the shy’s the limit and don’t forget that there are people who want to see you succeed.”

Graduating senior Hennah Sughayer spoke next, and thanked those who had supported the class. Sughayer then gave examples of lessons learned through high school.

“It is with courage and determination that we are able to be here today. If we didn’t’ go through all the struggles we have, we wouldn’t have become the people we are today,” Sughayer said.

Seniors Abigail Fruk and Meg Klingerman shared the podium to talk about how relationships transformed throughout the last four years for the two of them.

“We believe graduation speeches are all too often well-spoke, but impractical in applications. In presenting together, Abi and I can represent a practical demonstration of the lessons we’ve learned the values we promote,” Klingerman said.

“In the last year, we have faced some of the greatest calamity of our lives. We’ve experienced a world ruled by fear and communities crippled by panic,” Fruk said. “However, even in the midst of bedlam, we’ve also watched the response of the world overcoming. We’ve watched everyday men and women become heroes.”

Klingerman finished their speech.

“As we go from this pale and into the world, it’s up to us in how we respond to the troubles that present themselves,” she said.

After the student speakers, the class of 162 students was announced, and students were given their high school diplomas.

The senior class gift was presented by 2021 graduate Noah Podlin. He explained that each year the graduating class selects a quote to represent itself in the halls of the school.

“This year, the class of 2021 has selected a quote from Brene Brown, the quote is as follows: ‘integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them,’” Podlin said.

At the end of the ceremony, 2021 graduate and valedictorian Kaleb Ott led the last rites of the ceremony for the class.

“Although the tassel ceremony closes the last door of our high school years, it also opens an even bigger door to a bright, new future,” Ott said.

He then asked the class to move their tassels from right to left.

Cheers erupted from the stands as mortarboard hats flew through the air and the seniors celebrated their achievements together.

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