by Joni Astrup
For many in Ivan Sand Community High School’s Class of 2013, the road to graduation was paved with obstacles big and small.
But they persevered and received their diplomas during the Elk River school’s graduation ceremony Tuesday, June 4.
Six students shared their stories at commencement. They were Brittany Grotheer, Kim LeClair, Autumn Rasmussen, Josie Collins, John Ellis and Samantha Turcotte.
Grotheer said when every other school told her she couldn’t graduate on time, Ivan Sand gave her the chance to accomplish her goals.
“This year has been my best year in high school and that is because here at Ivan Sand we are one big, loving and caring family, and we all know nothing is better than that,” Grotheer said.
She is registered at Anoka Technical College and hopes to become a medical assistant.
LeClair said she was bullied at her previous school. When she was punched in the face, she knew she couldn’t stay there yet she needed to graduate. Her dad decided she should give Ivan Sand a try.
The teachers at Ivan Sand were there for her when she needed them, LeClair said. “They were always very understanding and I don’t think I could have graduated on time without them,” she said. “I look at the Ivan Sand staff as a second family.”
Collins decided to come to Ivan Sand from Zimmerman High School because she was in jeopardy of not graduating on time.
The people at Ivan Sand were extremely nice and accepting, she said, and the staff helped her have a positive attitude toward school.
“All of them care about you as a person,” she said.
She will attend St. Cloud Technical and Community College in the fall, majoring in child development.
She also paid tribute to Ivan Sand Principal Val Bakken, who is retiring. “She is the most amazing woman I have ever met in my life, with such a big heart. She works one-on-one with her students so that they graduate on time and have successful futures,” Collins said.
Turcotte spent her final year of high school at Ivan Sand. She said it was the best choice she ever made.
“Graduating two years late, school was obviously hard for me,” Turcotte said. “Sometimes it seemed like it would never end.”
But she said the staff at Ivan Sand, as well as friends and family, were there for her along the way.
“A million people can tell you that you can’t do something. A handful of people can tell you that you can get there. But you are the only person that can do it. You are the only one who can show everyone that it can be done,” she said. “And that’s exactly what we all did tonight.”
Even though some took longer than others to graduate, the point is no one gave up, she said.
John Vorobyev was named Student of the Year. The other finalists were John Ellis, Kim LeClair and Kristina Provost. The award was presented by Diane (Sand) Hermes, daughter of the school’s namesake, Ivan Sand.
Hermes described Vorobyev as “a shining example of what someone can do if they are persistent and determined.”
He learns for the sake of learning, brightens up any space and sets a great example for others, she said.
Yet life has not been easy for him, she said. English was not spoken in his home, so English is a second language for him. Even though he is extremely intelligent, school was hard because he was learning English along with everything else, Hermes said.
Vorobyev has a special appreciation for the American dream and intends to chase it, she said. He has a job and is helping out his family, but plans to go to college and build a great life, she said.
Scholarships were also presented.
John Houlton of First National Bank of Elk River awarded two of the scholarships. He told the students he likes to present them personally to say thank you to the graduates.
Bakken told the graduates they should feel proud that they didn’t let obstacles prevent them from graduating.
“That, you see, is the stuff that really counts in life,” she told them.
She urged the members of the Class of 2013 to never give up and thanked them for being part of her life.
“We will miss you, but as you leave us please know that you are loved and that we truly wish you all the best that life can offer,” she said.
Elk River Area School Board Member Jolene Jorgensen accepted the Class of 2013 before the students walked across the stage to collect their diplomas at Elk River High School’s Zabee Auditorium.
Jorgensen told the class: “Your journey may have taken a little longer, been a bit tougher, but that’s what makes it all that more sweet.”