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Graduations provide a pre-pandemic feel

High schools across the county celebrated graduation Friday with confetti, speeches and congratulations, and the tossing of brightly colored caps up into the air, to celebrate the end of an unprecedented school year fully gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Cloquet, graduation was held outside on the football field, with graduates and families on or near the field and other audience members in the bleachers. In Carlton, Wrenshall, Cromwell and the Fond du Lac Ojibwe school, the ceremonies were held inside.

Masks were optional, as pandemic restrictions have eased. Coats - at least in Cloquet - would have been wise as the wind got progressively colder during the ceremony, which started at 6 p.m.

Still, it was a return to some kind of normal, after graduations for the Class of 2020 took place in a socially distanced manner, mostly outside, mostly involving cars, last May and June.

Cloquet high school principal Steve Battaglia took a moment to give a shout-out to the families and community members who were seated behind the graduates, a visible representation of the support it took to get the students through those formative learning years.

He also praised the students, for working with the school administrators to adapt to pandemic conditions no one had really planned for in a "unique" year - the craziest in his 18 years - including distance and hybrid learning, masks, quarantine, graduation outside, prom in a parking lot and a socially distanced homecoming ceremony.

"Despite all the talk and focus out there being on what our students missed out on this school year, let's focus on what was gained," Battaglia said. "Our students now know that they can survive being thrown a curveball or two. They managed through their senior year during a pandemic and even learned that it is possible to thrive in less than ideal conditions. I would argue that while they may have missed out on a few lessons and/or projects in their classes, they might be the most prepared group of seniors we've ever sent into society. At this point, what haven't they seen?"

Cloquet graduation speaker Benjamin Bauer touched on the challenges of the past year, but offered optimism and a challenge to his classmates to be a force for good.

"Sure, this past year many of us stayed in bed for inordinate amounts of time during distance learning, but we kept going and made it through. Here we are sitting together, having completed 13 years of schooling, and I know every one of us can make a difference in the world."

Esko and Barnum high schools will hold their ceremonies at 7 p.m. Friday, and Moose Lake at 2 p.m. Saturday.