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The commencement speaker at the Bridger Charter Academy graduation on Saturday didn’t feel the need to give the graduates much advice.

The 15 students, former academy secretary Lynn Powers said, had already tackled enough challenges that they could each give their own speech.

“Online, in-person, hybrid, you’ve shown resilience,” Powers said. “You’ve been able to take this mess that we have, and the message that came out of it, that each of you could stand up here and give another talk.”

As thunder rumbled outside the Willson Auditorium Saturday afternoon, Powers hailed Bridger Charter graduates for the skills they had picked up during their years in the academy and said they are “years ahead” of others.

“I see you guys on the front of a wave that is sweeping this nation, it’s sweeping this world,” Powers said. “I see you moving out into the world and reaching greater heights because of what you’ve been through.”

During the ceremony, the students were lauded for being hardworking, kind and positive.

As they received their diplomas, teacher leader Caitlin Skinner shared their plans for the future. Some students are still figuring it out, others are taking a gap year or are heading to Montana State University and other colleges in the fall.

One graduate has dreams to open his own gym some day and another plans to become a mechanic.

Though class speaker Emily Kern was always looking forward to being done with school, leaving Bridger is difficult. Kern said the academy, which allows students to work at their own pace, has a strong sense of community.

“For the first time in all my years of schooling, I felt like my teachers actually cared about me, and not just about my grades,” said Kern, who plans to attend MSU. “I can’t imagine what my life would have looked like had I not joined Bridger.”

Principal Dan Mills applauded the students for choosing Bridger, noting that the school and district staff on stage and all the parents, family and friends in the audience believed in them.

“At some point during the past four years you made an important decision, a decision to join the Bridger Charter Academy,” Mills said. “You should be proud of that decision. It’s brought you here to where you are today.”

Braelyn Hamilton, 17, joined the charter program for the last year of high school because the pace of work seemed like a better fit.

Hamilton is taking a gap year before attending Montana State University and plans to work and travel in the interim.

Though a bit nervous before the ceremony, Hamilton said reaching graduation was exciting.

“I’m really proud of everyone who’s made it through this year. It’s been incredibly tough,” Hamilton said. “Especially with the pandemic and all the things that come with it but I’m really proud of our class.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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