By Robert Maharry, The Times-Republican
A fierce wind may have blown off more than a few caps, but it couldn’t keep the 314 seniors who comprise the Marshalltown High School Class of 2022 from walking across Leonard Cole Field and receiving their diplomas on Sunday afternoon.
With accompaniment from the MHS wind symphony, the graduates walked onto the field as high school students for the final time and received greetings in four different languages — English, Spanish, Hakha Chin (native to western Myanmar) and French.
MHS Principal Jacque Wyant welcomed both the graduates and those in the audience before handing the microphone off to student speakers Veronica Herrera and Noelani Berg. Herrera noted, somewhat ironically, that the biggest inspirations in her life were high school dropouts — her parents, both of whom immigrated to the U.S. in hopes of giving their children a better life. She also shared a humorous anecdote about her parents buying her a “full-sized” violin and telling her she’d grow into it, despite the fact that she had asked for a much smaller instrument.
“They always told me ‘We don’t have a problem if you aim high and miss, but it’s a big problem if you aim low and you hit,’” Herrera said.
Berg detailed the experience of moving back to Marshalltown from Des Moines before her freshman year and her initial hesitancy to make new friends.
“I felt as if I had been dropped into a huge bucket of water… I was completely wiped clean of my old friends,” she said. “I remember I was so scared to even go into the lunch room my first week of school.”
In retrospect, however, the change eventually provided Berg with a chance to break out of her “perfect little bubble,” get involved at MHS and take some of her favorite classes. Her advice to other students was to let their perfect little bubbles become puddles on the floor.
After various student achievements were recognized — Bobcat Ready, Seal of Biliteracy, NHS members, Silver Cord awards, class officers, honor students and students with distinction — two more speakers took the stage. Jackson Matteson remembered his first day at Marshalltown as a six-year-old wearing his Marvel backpack and how quickly time went by leading up to graduation.
Andrea Montes Melendez became emotional as she described her journey from an immigrant who came to the U.S. just two years ago without knowing a word of English to a featured speaker at her own high school graduation. She persevered, achieving every goal she set for herself and then some, and she celebrated the diversity at MHS, which she believes has enriched the lives of both students and staff members.
“We believe in diversity. We are joined by diversity. We strive for diversity, and we make our dreams come true through diversity,” she said.
Superintendent Theron Schutte, a proud MHS alum himself from the class of 1981, spoke to the class of ’22 in an address translated into Spanish by Jairo Yepez, and he highlighted their achievements both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. He also addressed the unique challenges this class faced during one of the most challenging periods in the history of Marshalltown and the world at large.
“Today’s graduates have the unique distinction of having successfully navigated high school while also dealing with the effects of an EF-3 tornado and derecho in addition to a worldwide pandemic that has been problematic for the past few years,” he said before referencing the windy conditions. “Today’s weather is kind of fitting… I know the diploma you’re receiving today represents years of hard work even though you’ve been facing challenges and opportunities to learn differently.”
Sara Faltys, the vice president of the school board, also congratulated the graduates in an address translated into Spanish by Rochelle Avalos.
Finally, it was time for the most important business of the day: the distribution of diplomas. Seniors walked in alphabetical order to receive them, shaking hands with school board members and staff, and one — Kevin Strand — even pulled out his cell phone for a selfie.
The celebration then continued in the high school parking lot as parents, relatives and friends commended all of the hard work that went into the diplomas these seniors earned and remembered all of the challenges they had to overcome to get them.