BY JIM MASTERS
LANSING, Ill. (June 13, 2021) – Memorial Junior High School had an eighth-grade graduation ceremony like no other in its history — and hopefully never again.
The realities of the pandemic relegated the Class of 2021 commencement to a socially distanced walk-up diploma distribution outside at Memorial on June 1. Caps and gowns were the attire of the day, with opportunities for pictures with family. Memorial conducted 13 such mini ceremonies throughout the day.
The abbreviated pomp and circumstance aside, Memorial still had a graduation ceremony in the true spirit of the occasion. Like much of the remote learning over the past school year, a virtual commencement on May 31, broadcast on YouTube, would suffice:
A year of firsts
Addressing the Class of 2021, Dr. Nathan Schilling, District 158 Superintendent of Schools, described the past school year as one of firsts.
“First one to start the school year almost entirely remotely. First class to participate in a fully virtual band concert, talent show, art exhibition, and Black History Month presentation. First class to learn Microsoft Teams, complete your state assessments socially distanced behind plexiglass shields, and wear face masks at school. And finally, first class to live through historic times of social unrest and a global health pandemic.”
Dr. Schilling believes the graduates are stronger now for having persevered through the pandemic.
“Class of 2021, you are better for it because of the obstacles you have overcome over the past 14 months — experiences that will forever inform the people who you are and the human beings you will become,” he said.
Remembering Yolanda Halbert
Assistant Principal Phyllis Taborn used the forum to remember Yolanda Halbert (1970-2021), who passed away during the school year.
“She was a seventh-grade special education teacher who touched many students’ lives through her love for education,” Taborn said. “Ms. Halbert also conducted warm conversations with students, providing them with guidance and social emotional support. Our Memorial family and graduating class will remember her for her warm smile that greeted many of us as we began our day.”
Top students address classmates
Two standouts of the Class of 2021 offered words of wisdom and encouragement to their fellow graduates as they prepare for their high school years. Va Hurn and Morgan Kleidon wore special green and white cords on their gowns in recognition of their academic success, community service, and leadership by the Illinois Principals Association.
Hurn spoke of the importance of setting goals in life, especially during times of change. She offered her own personal story of living through change: “As an example, my situation was moving across the country from Texas to Illinois during a pandemic.”
She continued, “The pandemic has changed most of us if not all of us. It was very different and hard to change from in-person learning to online learning as we’ve all been through it. But here we are, the graduating class of 2021 of Memorial Junior High School.”
Kleidon stressed how each of her classmates is unique and special.
“You do not need a diploma or award to prove there is something special in us,” she said. “We are all blessed with talents worth congratulating and that is what today is all about.”
Memorial Junior High School is located at 2721 Ridge Road, Lansing, IL.
- District 158 remembers Reavis stalwart Barbara Gaffney (June 2, 2021)
- District 158 breaks ground on new Lester Crawl Primary Center (April 26, 2021)
- District 158 mourns loss of Special Ed teacher Yolanda Halbert (February 12, 2021)