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Omaha-area high school graduation speakers offer insights, humor on tough year

Omaha-area high school graduation speakers offer insights, humor on tough year

COVID-19 was a big test for metro Omaha high school students, but they managed to make it through the 2020-21 school year and emerge with new insights on life and with their sense of humor intact.

The following are excerpts from some high school graduation speeches delivered this month at ceremonies around the area:

Omaha Creighton Prep High School

Dominic Mendlik

“Instead of fighting the hand we were dealt, we displayed maturity in accepting these challenges and leading the underclassmen by example. And why would we complain? All the tests we got to take from home were on the ‘honor system,’ and we didn’t have to sit with the freshmen at lunch.”

Millard West High School

Emma Cavalier

“... I will never forget July 21, 2020. The marching band was brought into the auditorium to be informed that we would not have a competitive marching season. Through tears, I looked around to see my peers lose a piece of themselves that they had held so close to their hearts for countless years.”

Edison Geiler

“... I know you all haven’t let COVID ruin your year — that’s a special skill to have: finding some ounce of warmth and enjoyment in a time where they’ve been scarce. I’m confident that skill will benefit all of us in the future, because I’ve seen how it’s gotten all of us to the finish line of a turbulent year. I hope we never lose it.”

Millard North High School

Anusha Deshpande

“If we have learned anything this year, it is that this class is resilient. We have found ways to adapt and continue living our lives and enjoy our senior year even when it feels like the world has turned upside down. We now seek out joys in the small things, like spending time with family and friends, and truly savor the beauty of human interaction.”

Millard South High School

Kylee J. Ellison

“... Look at all the things we’ve done. We had a different homecoming. Marching band was still able to somewhat take place. Show choir was still able to compete, and drama put on a show of their own. There are schools all over the country who are still out of commission. Yes, all these things weren’t the same, weren’t what we wanted our last year to be, but we still overcame it.”

Kaylee Snowardt

“We held each other up this year during one of the most unprecedented, trying times of our life. The support we gave each other and the ability to persist through all the hardships will give us strength that we can carry to our future endeavors. The beauty in this is that we are who we are because of each other. And the people that we are matters more than any other plan, because if we have learned anything from this past year, it is that life does not always go the way that we intend for it to.”

Ralston High School

Nada Fadhil

“... I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the biggest challenges that tested humankind: the infamous COVID-19. The virus that caused us to lose loved ones, jobs, graduations, time with friends and family, and much more. I’d like to commend my fellow classmates for not only going through that challenge, but also managing to thrive and make it to the finish line. I know that some things didn’t go like we had imagined them to. But if there’s one thing that this pandemic has taught us, it’s that we are creatures who are strong and adaptable.”

Neleigh Rush

“We have all seen the tragedy that has stricken our country and world this year. We faced thousands of deaths from the coronavirus, we saw innocent Black men being killed, we saw increased hate speech and attacks on Asian Americans, in part due to public blaming for a virus that was by no means anyone’s fault. And that was all this year. In years prior, reproductive rights were being debated, LGBTQ+ rights were being questioned. ... I think it is clear that America as a whole needs to learn what (Ralston students) have all been taught for years, that being the saying: #BeKind.”

Elkhorn High School

Spencer Gordman

“We had a global pandemic set the background for the entirety of our senior year. That’s insane. But I purposefully use the term ‘background’ because that is what all of this was to me. COVID-19 wasn’t the focus. It was just in the background. Because the focus to me was not a virus, it was getting through our final year of high school with our incredible senior class. Now, if you are all good, I’m done talking about the pandemic. I’m sure you are tired of hearing about the pandemic, and I just want to focus on celebrating the 350 amazing people sitting right here staring back at me.”

Elkhorn South High School

Mia Jewett

“... You know what, we totally kicked this pandemic’s butt. In the midst of all this madness our volleyball team took home first place at state. The theater program performed a spectacular rendition of ‘Mama Mia.’ Both the dance team and cheerleaders were able to travel to state events. Show choir kids danced their hearts out to a show we learned by a dumpster. I really wish that was a joke ... yes, things were different than planned, and at times it might have felt as if the world was literally falling apart. But we made it, you guys. And not only that, but we are officially history-makers. One day they will be teaching about the class that graduated with honors, if I may, in the midst of the world shutting down.”

Papillion La Vista High School

Grace Khayati

“As impactful as COVID-19 has been on our senior year, I won’t stay on the topic too long. Our final moments as students of PLHS should be filled with more than the memories of the initial lockdown, binge watching Netflix, and taking forced daily walks with our families. As much as we all loathe the thought of quarantine, there were some positive takeaways. I know for me personally, lockdown was the first time in years I allowed myself to enjoy a new activity to simply relish in it, rather than worrying about putting it on a résumé. As limiting as this year has been, in some regards it felt like the first time we could breathe.”

Zachary Long

“I find it beneficial to think about times that have come and gone, like when Mr. Icenogle sold Pop Tarts out of his desk so he could pay for our food days freshman year. These memories made me realize how important all the small things are during high school. I took my freshman year for granted. I really wish I hadn’t, because I, like others, didn’t expect for almost a year and a half of my high school career to disappear due to COVID-19. This year was difficult beyond measure, and it possessed its share of unprecedented challenges: for example, distancing ourselves by 6 feet, wearing a mask all day, and holding in a cough until you’re alone so people are not afraid to be around you.”

Bennington High School

Jack and Grant Volk

“The specialness and significance of our graduation — especially amidst a time where we witnessed an unprecedented use of the phrase ‘out of an abundance of caution’ — produces a desire in us to slow down time in some way, to remember the ‘good old days’ of high school, especially those that happened without social distancing, masks and everyone’s favorite: the ever-changing directed health measures.”

Platteview High School

Nearly Hernandez

“I think the Class of 2021 is definitely ready for whatever comes our way. We’ve been through ups and downs throughout our lives, especially this past year. And we were never alone. This past year has only made us stronger. We couldn’t have done it without our families, teachers, mentors and community. You’re the reason we’re ready for this next chapter in our lives.”

Omaha Bryan High School

Mariam Zahid

“One thing that helped me along my journey was you, the Class of 2021. As I met and got the pleasure to know you guys, the more I found out we had in common. Whether it be agreeing that Bryan has the best soccer team or making bad decisions in freshman year, and not wearing our glasses during the total solar eclipse; we all have a strong drive to succeed. Especially this year. We all pushed through and showed resilience during a pandemic that challenged everyone.”

Daniel J. Gross High School

Theodosia Mba

“Speaking of COVID, this class got hit hard. At first it was a win because we got to complete the hardest year of school online. Never loved Edpuzzles more. But then we got to senior year and realized COVID is really going to mess up our senior year, too. Thought that was just the Class of 2020. But instead of spending our senior year in despair, we listened to CDC regulations and made sure we could make the very most for not only our senior year, but for all the underclassmen. We took our role of being senior leaders seriously and led by example, and hopefully left a mark on our underclassmen.”

Omaha Skutt Catholic High School

Zachary Weis

“I’m going to be honest, as I started writing this speech I felt stuck. I resorted to watching graduation speeches on YouTube for inspiration, but none of them really helped. I came to the realization that the Class of 2021 is extraordinary. Of course, we are graduating in the middle of the biggest tragedy since Mr. Bailey banned plastic water bottles. Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about COVID for the rest of my speech, but I think that being remote has taught us all one thing: Our relationships are important.”

Gweneth Medlock

“This field represents what Skutt Catholic means to me: impeccable landscaping. I mean, with all the renovations Mr. Moore has fought for, you can barely recognize the spot where I threw up after volleyball conditioning. Right over there.”

Omaha Marian Catholic School

Amal Imran

“If there is one thing I took away from these last few years, it’s not what the green light symbolized in ‘The Great Gatsby,’ or the steps of meiosis, and it’s definitely not the unit circle. But through online classes, hybrid schedules and two-week quarantine, I learned just how important it is to show up. Before last year it was so easy to take for granted the people who sat through your classes with you and waved at you in the hallway. You never realize how much their presence mattered to you until you are sitting alone at your desk at home and the only person you see walk the hallway is your brother on his way to the kitchen for the fourth time.”

Naomi Delkamiller

“... Our class put the core values on display. We showed compassion by encouraging our teachers during online and hybrid learning, service by sanitizing our desks after every single class, spirituality by sharing authentic signs of peace at Masses, empowerment by creating a diversity board, and we built community by showing underclass students what it means to be a Marian girl, even behind face shields.”

Omaha Mercy Catholic High School

Clare Euteneuer

“To the administration of Mercy: Thank you for getting us through this trying year. I know your efforts in trying to keep as many traditions as possible are very much appreciated. To the teachers: Thank you for everything. You have taught us so much in both the specific subject we were learning but also in giving us good role models and examples of how to live a life in service to others.”

Douglas County West High School

Kelsey Hutton

“They told me to imagine everybody naked, and I would be less nervous, but honestly I’m just really uncomfortable, especially with Mr. Ter Beest back there.”


joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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