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In the words of 2020 graduates

Seniors write, record commencement addresses from home

If he were to give a speech at commencement, Lowell High School senior Jared Sweet would give props to the “plenty of examples” of administrators, staff and parents who have rallied to keep students learning, as well as students themselves for their efforts to connect and to recognize one another. 

Xzavier Geiger would deliver this message — somewhat muffled through a face mask fitting for this moment in human history: “We have a bright future ahead of us.” 

And Neely Bardwell would congratulate her classmates, who “have all managed to survive the numerous hardships of high school and the COVID-19 epidemic.” She would remind them that “your hardships will remind you of where you’ve been and what you’ve made it through… We will use these lessons to do great things.”

Their commencement speeches are quotable because, as students of English teacher Heidi Kolp’s speech class, they have penned — and in some cases, recorded them on video from home.

Kolp usually gives her class the chance to take a crack at crafting a  commencement address. Some seniors enter them in a competition that can earn them a spot at the real podium alongside the valedictorian and salutatorian. 

This year’s in-person commencement was initially slated for May 21, but is postponed until June 11 due to efforts to help slow the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan.

Kolp went ahead with the assignment “to give kids an opportunity to get a positive message out in these times of uncertainty, and give them a voice when, right now, they mostly feel like their chance in the spotlight was taken from them,” she said.

“This was something for them to work on and look forward to.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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