NEW BUFFALO — Things were looking up in many ways for members of the New Buffalo High School Class of 2021 during a commencement ceremony held at the district’s Sportsplex on the evening of Saturday, June 5.

The early stages of the ceremony included a fly-over by a World War II-era T-6 Navy Trainer, and commencement ended with a colorful fireworks display over the Middle/High School school building where the new graduates had spent so much time learning and making memories.

The recent loosening of Coronavirus restrictions, which had an enormous impact on the lives of everyone at commencement, was celebrated by several speakers.

“Seniors, I’m so very glad that you’re getting this moment,” said High School Principal Wayne Butler. “For the last two years you have faced tragedy, yet by your presence here you have triumphed. You went from no in-person instruction, no dances, two people at a lunch table, no sports, do not show up until 8 o’clock, and then you had to be out of the building at 3:35. Suddenly, they had a prom, they had sports, and tonight you’re having a proper graduation ceremony with a full cast from your community to celebrate with you. Congratulations!”

School Board President Charles Heit (on behalf of the Board of Education) thanked parents, grandparents, family and friends for their support they’ve shown to each of the graduates, along with the entire NBAS staff, faculty and administration for their hard work and dedication “to keep our school open to in-person learning.”

Heit said the district has been recognized with National Blue Ribbon Awards for the High School and the Elementary School.

He also praised this year’s graduates.

“We will hear about many of your accomplishments this evening, but we want you to know we are proud of each and every one of you.”

Class of 2021 Co-Presidents Cole Haskins and Abby Vitale spoke before participating in the 78-year-old tradition of passing the spirit stick on to leaders of the junior class (Co-Presidents Georgiana Arvanitis and Zoe Price) so they could attach their class colors.

“This year, our graduation may be outside and it may be a bit different than years past, but all of our families and friends can attend in person and that is truly a beautiful thing,” Haskins said. “This has been an unprecedented year. We began our senior year with hope and determination. While navigating through these uncertain times, the Student Senate was determined to make this year as joyous and as normal as we possibly could. Even though we had our meetings over Zoom, our organization was committed to continue with our leadership and volunteer efforts. When we were planning Homecoming and Winterfest, we had to be innovative in our thinking and our ideas. We wanted to honor these traditions and bring Bison pride to the forefront, all with the uncertainty if we would even be allowed to have a sports season. However, we prevailed and were able to celebrate all of these traditional high school milestones. And of course, Seniors won both Winterfest and Homecoming activities.”

Vitale said the Student Senate proved it is full of leaders and innovative during the 2020-2021 school year.

“The lessons we have learned regarding working together and functioning as a team have been priceless. We believe these experiences will serve us well in our future endeavors,” she said, thanking “fantastic and supportive advisors Ms. (Beth) Scoggin and Ms. (Amy) Ingle” and asking Student Senate members to stand for a round of applause.

Vitale urged next year’s Student Senate members to lead and be positive examples for their school and community.

“You survived a pandemic. You got this,” she said.

Recognized as the 2021 Senior Scholars by Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Leslie were: Enrique Arana, Konstantin Bauer, Bodee Davis, Sophia DeOliveira, Sean Gordon, Andrea Haberichter, Cole Haskins, Emma Lantz, Ethan Moser, Clair Nerada, Alexandra O’Leary, Alexandra Smith, Chase Strother, Emma Totzke, Abigail Vitale and Erin Whitaker.

Konstanin Bauer began the Senior Class Address by saying he thought about focusing on the academic success of the NBHS Class of 2021, which is filled with hard-working and talented individuals, or maybe talking about funny moments such as “the great pop tart incident” from eighth grade.

“But what I ended up coming up with, though, is in essence something pretty simple … The most important parts of high school don’t lie in the grades, the testing, or learning how to function without enough sleep. The most important parts lie in the memories we’ve made with the people we’ve shared this time with.”

Bauer said when he looks back on high school in the future he’ll remember “the good times we had – the powderpuff games and especially our dances, the football games, the South County Cougars... well maybe not so much that, the cookies after band performances and Connor’s sweet dance moves in band, the bus rides to games and getting in trouble for having our feet in the aisle, the really weird discussions in Mrs. Totzke’s class, the school dances with the same music every single year, the Zoom classes, the school lunches. Well, maybe they weren’t all good times, but most importantly, they were times shared with good people.”

“Ahead of us is life. But behind us, we’ll always have each other and our memories.”

Bauer advised his classmates to make memories and have good times.

“Relationships and friendships are the essence of the human experience. It is how we interact and impact each other that reveals our importance. Ultimately, it’s these good times that you remember, and it’s these memories that have built the foundation of who we are.”

Guest speaker Nathaniel Tripp Sr. shared a wealth of memories with this year’s graduates, noting that he has been with the class since the seventh and eighth grades, “and then I followed you to high school.”

Among the shared experiences he recalled was an eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., which taught lessons such as where to enjoy a great breakfast buffet (Pipe’s), not even teachers can try to touch George Washington’s furniture, and the line “Let’s mosey” gaining near-legendary status.

Tripp talked about the many great teachers this year’s graduates have learned from over the years.

After saying this has to be “certainly one of the most challenging senior years in school history,” he praised the assembled students for overcoming frustrations, doubt, continued change after change.

“Yet here you are on this grand day to celebrate you and the journey that you have been on,” Tripp said, adding that their best years, best memories and best experiences still lie ahead.

Leslie said many years from now members of the Class of 2021 will have to explain pandemics, quarantines and social distancing to their grandchildren, later saying the New Buffalo district totaled about 50 confirmed or probable COVID cases during the school year leading to about 250 quarantines.

He said student achievements kept him and other staff members going, including senior presentations which “top to bottom were the best I’ve ever seen.”

Leslie gave special thanks to the Haberichter family for hosting the 2021 Prom at their Goldberry Woods Bed and Breakfast; The Pokagon Fund and its Executive Director Dan Petersen for a grant that made adding an additional social worker possible; and Nicki Britten and her colleagues at the Berrien County Health Department for deciding that in-person instruction could take place safely in 2020-2021.

Highlights of the past four years at New Buffalo High School were recalled by Da’Nai Smothers-Davis and Madison Sexton (freshman and sophomore years) and by Emma Lantz and Sophia DeOliveira (junior and senior years).

The ceremony also featured the High School Band performing both a medley of military service themes while Grayson Lambert was recognized for enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps, and “Imagine” with senior band members sitting in one last time.

Class Advisors were Tina Keller and Matthew Johnson.

Members of the Class of 2021 are: Enrique Arana, Konstantin Bauer, Paige Bluschke, Nadia Collins, Gabrielle D’Archangelis, Bodee Davis, Sophia DeOliveria, Nyhilia Durham, James Feather, Taylor Fiero, Emmaline Fox, Zanndra Fraze, Sean Gordon, Andrea Haberichter, Cole Haskins, Joshua Keen, Adam Knigga, Grayson Lambert, Emma Lantz, Benjamin Lijewski, Stephen Margaritis, Vanessa Martinez, Miguel Mercado, Ethan Moser, Clair Nerada, Alexandra O’Leary, Christina Osby, Carter Schroeder, Madison Sexton, Abigail Sheldon, Hayden Sippel, Alexandria Smith, Da’nai Smothers-Davis, Chase Strother, Brenden Tanksley, Connor Tierney, Emma Totzke, Addison Tripp, Nathaniel Tripp, Abigail Vitale, Sarah Walters and Erin Whitaker.

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