PHOTO GALLERY: Dowagiac community celebrates Class of 2021

DOWAGIAC — An event 13 years in the making took place Sunday afternoon at Chris Taylor Alumni Field in Dowagiac.

One-hundred-and-four Dowagiac Union High School seniors — decked out in caps and gowns — entered the stadium for the last time as high school students as the DUHS Class of 2021 Commencement Ceremony began.

Dowagiac Union High School principal Kelly Millin opened the ceremony with an introductory speech that included a list of accomplishments for the class of 2021. 

Those accomplishments include:

  • 46 percent of the graduating class earned a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
  • 32 seniors earned 395 credit hours at Southwestern Michigan College, saving their families a total of more than $108,000.
  • 24 seniors will attend a four-year university
  • 33 seniors will attend a two-year community college
  • 5 seniors will attend a technical/trade school
  • 38 seniors plan to enter the workforce
  • 3 seniors will enter the military
  • The class of 2021 earned a total of more than $659,000 in scholarships

Board of Education president Ronda Sullivan and DUS superintendent Jonathan Whan each congratulated the graduates on their special day.

“My prayer is that you look at yourself today as an example to your community, your friends and family knowing that you have the perseverance to keep going and you made it here today,” Sullivan said. “Carry that into the next chapter of your life and you will continue to be successful.”

Whan shared with those in attendance an excerpt from author A. A. Milne’s famous children’s series “Winnie The Pooh,” encouraging students to make every day great.

“Please picture Pooh and Piglet walking down a path in The Great Woods,” Whan said. “Pooh turns to his best friend Piglet and says ‘what day is it?’ A little surprised, Piglet answers ‘It’s today.’ Pooh responds with ‘my favorite.’ I pray for you to experience many blessings from God and that you embrace them all as you make each day great. We are very proud of you, and Go Chieftains!”

Following the performance of Fitz and The Tantrums’ “I Just Wanna Shine” by the Union High School Choir, Salutatorian Mason Dzakowic delivered a speech celebrating the friendships and bonds made during high school.

“These are my friends in band, robotics, and in class,” Dzakowic said. “I will miss every single one of them. So many things and so many people, so little time to say goodbye. I know it’s sad but, just because I’m gone, doesn’t mean I’m gone. I will still stay in contact with my friends. I will still be up at night playing with buds. Some of you I won’t see ever again. To you I say good luck and I believe that each and everyone of you will go out and lead happy lives. Some of you will move across the country or some will go and bloom into wonderful people with lots of new friends.”

Valedictorian Martha Schaller’s speech followed the theme of “Akeelah and The Bee,” a film about the fictional story of an 11-year-old girl named Akeelah living in South Los Angeles as she wins the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“Just as Akeelah had 50,000 coaches, so do I. No matter whether I realized it at the time or not, I have been interacting with people constantly throughout my life that have been my coaches and teachers and taught me invaluable lessons. I am not on this podium by chance nor solely by my own work.”

Schaller highlighted the teachers, students and friends that made her high school experience and told her classmates that they are teachers themselves.

“I love being able to wake up every day and be a part of this world with all of you where we can interact with each other and change each other’s lives forever with the simplest of gestures, kind words, and actions. We are all students, every last one of us, and we are all teachers, every last one of us. Go out in the world beyond and be both the best students and the best teachers you can be.”

The Union High School Band’s performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” was followed by the presentation of diplomas and the movement of tassels.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, many students participated in a graduation parade featuring the graduates in decorated vehicles.

Whan spoke highly of the graduates’ resiliency during the pandemic-laden school year and wished the students well in the years to come.

“I hope you know that everyone here is proud of you, appreciates your growth, dedication and accomplishments,” He said. “For 13 years, you have worked to develop your understanding of academic skills, you have expanded your ability to problem solve and generate new ideas. You have developed relationships with classmates, staff and community members. Most importantly, you have learned that life is a process of continuous learning. As you continue broadening your knowledge and understanding, you will become our next group of great leaders.”

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