by Debbie Griffin
The green-gowned graduates of Ivan Sand Community High School generated a dynamic energy that filled the air as they prepared to receive their diplomas 7 p.m. June 3 in the Zabee Theater at Elk River High School.
Ivan Sand Principal Tom Hoffman said 18 of the 23 graduating seniors “walked the stage,” and three of the graduates had just completed the requirements that day. With a total of one year at Ivan Sand and 31 years in education, the principal said a major goal and theme at the alternative high school is overcoming obstacles.
Graduates gathered in a small room for pictures, amazed at how tall high heels made some look and asking how to situate their mortarboard tassel.
Ivan Sand student master of ceremonies Natalie Wendt explained how students of the school had designed the yearbook, graduation program cover and the photo presentation. She said they also competed and placed at state academic competitions, lobbied for alternative education, volunteered to craft fleece blankets for a youth transitional-housing center, held fundraisers and blood drives and volunteered with the Feed My Starving Children program.
Wendt praised the relationships and connections between students and teachers and spoke highly of the Thanksgiving meal prepared and served at the school – a favorite day among students.
Graduate John Sweeting said he was glad to be standing there as a speaker because his story began at a time when he was failing and skipping school. When he did go, he’d sleep and generally didn’t care. Sweeting said all that changed when he started to go to Ivan Sand Community High School, saying the biggest difference was believing in himself again. He said, “I started to see my future.”
He learned not to give up and that hard work plus a positive attitude could pay off. Sweeting advised students not to let anyone tell them they can’t do something and most importantly, to believe in themselves.
Graduate Hannah Gagliardi described her condition at the time she started at ISCHS as a “train wreck.” She had no intent of graduating and didn’t want to get up in the morning.
After attending the school for a while, she said it felt like home and she learned how to feel proud again. She commended all her classmates for overcoming their own obstacles and the teachers and staff for their aide.
“They held us, helped us and pushed us through this journey,” Gagliardi said.
June Schendel said graduation and success go hand in hand but wondered how to define success. He said it seems to be picking a goal that may seem impossible then working toward it and achieving it. Schendel recognized graduation as one big step toward success and congratulated his classmates on taking it.
He said, “Here’s to everything we can possibly be.”
Haley Hernandez said she was two years behind when she started at the alternative high school and now recognizes how much the small class size and extra time with the teacher helped her. She described the ups and downs of starting to do well, then having setbacks with two deaths in the family and not being able to see the future.
Hernandez said despite it all, “Here I am.” She learned to persevere, believe in herself again and to lean on her mom, who encouraged her not to give up. The graduate said her education had lit a fire within her that will never go out.
Erin Lehman said when she started at Ivan Sand, she’d been skipping school, not doing homework and didn’t care. She wanted to drop out and get a GED and was skeptical about another school setting in which she probably wouldn’t fit.
She got to know the teachers at the school and got help for a substance-abuse problem and depression. Lehman described winning second place in a state math competition and earning college credit before graduation. She starts college in Anoka County soon and has goals to attend Georgetown University then open a public-relations firm.
Four graduates received one or two scholarships totaling $1,000: Nicolas Hillebrand, Taylor Osmonson, Haley Hernandez and Brielle Klier. Hoffman told the graduates they are indeed “surviving and thriving” and that they won’t regret the hard work they did to earn the diploma. The principal held up his own 1977 diploma from Princeton High School to emphasize his final point.
He said, “You have earned something that nobody can ever take away from you.”