Memorial Junior High holds virtual and walk-up graduation ceremonies to cap year unlike any other

Students, with the support of Assistant Principal Richard Brown, move their tassels to the left side to signify their graduation from Memorial Junior High School following receipt of their diplomas. Memorial conducted 13 mini ceremonies like this throughout the walk-up ceremony. (Photo provided)
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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.

Isis Barret-Rogers receives her diploma from (left to right): Principal Dr. Keli Ross, District 158 School Board Vice President Abi Duran, Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling, and Board Secretary Denise Williams. (Photo provided)

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.”

Parents celebrate their kids’ graduation outside Memorial Junior High School. (Photo provided)

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.”

Va Hurn wears her honor cords for academic achievement, service, and leadership as she receives her diploma from (left to right): Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling, Principal Dr. Keli Ross, School Board President Mary Kelly, and Board Member Jim Long. (Photo provided)

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.


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Jim Masters grew up on 191st Street in Lansing. He attended Nathan Hale Elementary, was a member of St. Ann Church, graduated with the first graduating class at Heritage Middle School, and graduated from TF South High School in 1981. Inspired by his journalism teacher Joe Hyde, Jim earned a BA in Journalism from Northern Illinois University. He has more than 25 years of experience as beat reporter, specializing in government, politics, criminal justice, human interest stories, and education.