Owatonna High School's 144th commencement was unlike any before it, and hopefully unnecessary ever again. A high sky of sunshine Sunday greeted cars filled with graduates and their families at the Federated Insurance parking lot. Bright smiles shone on student's faces during Friday night's Cruise Main event that attracted previous grads to downtown Owatonna as well.

Students physically received their diplomas during a drive through of the Foundation Building on the Steele County Fairgrounds Sunday morning. They also had their formal grad pictures taken and received congratulatory words from administration members Jeff Elstad (superintendent), Kory Kath (OHS principal) and Marc Achterkirch (activities director). The cap to the weekend was the special lighting up of the high school as seen in the led photo for this story. (courtesy of Todd Walkingstick)

Moments before Kath addressed the parking lot full of vehicles, he told AM 1390 KRFO, "Our major goal was to ensure that all of our seniors were honored and they came together as a class and that is exactly what they wanted."

Regarding the abrupt end to in-person class and what the students missed, he referred to build up to graduation day, "Because so many of the students missed out on incredible opportunities that generally define the end of their senior year."

Three senior students made speeches. Elise Sande opened with, "Here we are strong and united. Today we celebrate the beautiful memories we made as a Husky, the growth and strength we've gained, and the hard work we've put in to get to this point." She used most of her time to highlight the fun of high school and the growth that she and her classmates went through during their time at OHS.

Sande talked of how the pandemic impacted the class, "I can't even tell you how many times I sat in the commons this year saying something along the lines of 'I want to go home' or 'I can't wait to graduate and move on' or 'I don't want to go to practice today' or 'I wish I could just sleep in.' But I now quickly realized how I took the blessings and things that I loved in my life for granted."

Hamdia Idow was born in Owatonna and returned to town for her senior year after spending time in Canada and Kenya with a short stint back in Owatonna in between. She said she practiced her speech with every family member she could think of.

Joseph Brueggemeier said giving a parking lot speech made him feel like he was in the movie Cars. A neighbor of his is a speech teacher and helped him prepare for his speech.

I spoke with Todd Walkingstick, whose daughter Tatum is in the Class of 2020, on AM 1390 KRFO on his perspective of the way OHS handled the 2020 graduation. He gives their efforts an "A+" in the following conversation.

conversation with Todd Walkingstick