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Speakers at Sunday’s Bozeman High School class of 2020 commencement congratulated graduates for tackling the challenges of unprecedented times and encouraged them to keep fighting for good.

The approximately 500 graduates each sat 6 feet apart from one another across the Montana State University Bobcat Stadium football field. One by one, they walked across the end zone to receive their diplomas as family and friends cheered from the stands.

“I must say, the graduating class has been amazing,” said Bob Connors, Bozeman School District superintendent during a welcoming address. “You changed public education forever.”

Connors thanked administrators, teachers and staff for reimagining public education. He said he hoped graduates’ educational journeys would allow them to exercise critical thinking skills amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Derek Strahn, a historian, author and social studies teacher at BHS, was this year’s faculty speaker. He said this year’s commencement was nostalgic for many because it would be the last time Bozeman seniors would graduate as one class.

Construction on Gallatin High School, located at West Oak Sreet and Cottonwood Road, is nearly complete, and administrators plan to open the high school to students this fall.

Strahn then said he needed to “acknowledge the elephant in the stadium.”

“This has been a very hard year, a spring we won’t forget. I have no doubt that it is one of the most shocking, surreal and difficult times of your short lives,” he said. “Just as you were reaching today’s important benchmark in your life story, our world suddenly became less predictable. Who among you could have anticipated sitting awkwardly 6 feet apart in this huge arena?”

Strahn said despite the challenges, hard times prepare ordinary people for extraordinary destinies. “Don’t feel defeated by the circumstances we are facing. Feel empowered,” he said.

Graduates Lucy Child and Emily Daniels were this year’s student speakers. Child plans to attend Georgetown and Daniels plans to attend Montana State University this fall.

Child said she didn’t want to deliver a charged political speech because she was tired of hearing about coronavirus on a 24-hour news loop. Instead, she encouraged her fellow graduates to treat others with kindness regardless of their differences. “Treating others with the dignity we all deserve isn’t red or blue,” she said.

Grade-point averages and state championships don’t matter anymore, because we all graduated here together, Child said. “We’ve made it to the end, and the only thing that matters about how we got here is how we treated others along the way.”

In her speech, Daniels encouraged her fellow graduates to follow “a few cliches.” She told graduates they should not only see the good in life, people, themselves, and the world, but should choose to become the good.

“You are so much more than a class graduating in a pandemic,” she said. “Don’t forget, you’ll always be a Hawk.”

Class of 2020 Bozeman High School graduate Camille Broling said now that she graduated, she feels overwhelmed.

Broling loved how speakers at the ceremony focused on unity and encouraged graduates to come together with humanity. She still hasn’t decided what she wants to do now that she’s graduated, but she’s considering attending Northern Idaho College. She received a scholarship to play soccer there.

Broling said the thing she would miss the people and atmosphere at Bozeman High School. “There’s a corner for everyone to fit in,” she said.

Shad Clark, another graduate, said the best part of the ceremony was seeing friends and familiar faces, especially after so much time being apart.

Clark plans to study the arts at Montana State University for at least one semester. He said he would miss the people he met and the connections he made in high school.

As a final message to graduates, Strahn said, “We shall overcome” is our nation’s great narrative. “Your place in history has been defined, class of 2020. Your destiny is now unfolding. Rise up and seize the day,” he said.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.