2021 Commencement Student Address

Amy Barnard

This year at commencement four MA Distinguished Scholars reflected on the class of 2021's experience with the Minnehaha Academy core values. Here are their brief but meaningful observations. We pray that the class of 2021 continues to walk and grow in each of these arenas as they launch into the rest of their lives!

Alexis Stanley—Exceptional Academics


A student wearing glasses and leaning to the side smiles at the camera.

Good evening, fellow graduates. While our time at Minnehaha these past four years has been anything but conventional, we have grown academically, socially, personally, and spiritually, as well as tighter as a community. We split our high school years between Mendota, our homes, and the new building, but we stayed together either physically or over Zoom. Nothing got in the way of our community bond, and I think that’s quite special and can be attributed to our core values. This year, instead of having one or two people speak, we decided to have four people, with each person covering a different core value. Hopefully, this collaborative approach reflects the atmosphere of both our grade and our shared experiences. 

I like to think of our academic journey in high school as a quest. Each one of us came from different backgrounds, but we were all together, seeking knowledge and an eventual diploma. Throughout our time at Dota, home, and the new building, we discovered our academic passions and found ways to apply them outside of the classroom, creating businesses, being active in our communities, coding, or independently learning a language. Additionally, we’ve won state and national level awards in our endeavors, including ones in journalism, English, music, photography, debate, math, theater, science, French, and Latin. And our ISS [International Space Station] project launched this week! There were many obstacles to overcome, but nothing was able to halt our academic achievements.

We weren’t alone in our quests either; we had mentors to help guide us. Throughout our four years, our teachers worked hard to quickly adapt to change. They exhibited understanding and enriched our experiences with the resources they had at the time. This meant teaching science without any equipment and letting us use their rooms as lockers for the past four years. They went out of their way to make themselves available to us, and we are forever grateful.

However, our quests aren’t over yet. These past four years have equipped us with skills of resilience, perseverance, and flexibility. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that there isn’t just one path to success. We’ve all taken different classes and pursued different extracurriculars, but here we are united tonight to celebrate and embark on the next chapter of our lives. Some of us are going to two or four year colleges, or taking a gap year, or even taking alternative routes. Now, we are able to take all that we’ve learned at Minnehaha, and apply it to that next step in our journey, whether that is business, art, medicine, or another pursuit we take on. I hope that each one of us continues to make the most out of every moment while carrying a little bit of that Dota and digital learning perseverance with us.

Sophie King—Caring Community


A student with long hair stands in front of a backdrop of tree leaves smiling.

When I showed up to freshman orientation four years ago, I didn't know a single person at MA. Those who know me will tell you that I am not an extrovert, and to be honest, I had a pretty bad attitude about the whole "making new friends" thing. But my older sister knew this other freshman, Miriam, from soccer practices, and once Miriam had identified me as Hannah's sister she lost no time taking me under her wing. That day she introduced me to all of her own friends and put up with me following her around the entire time. Everyone that I met was friendly, interesting, and cool. I found myself becoming comfortable and at ease so much faster than I had expected as I experienced the authenticity of our class's caring community. I am still close with Miriam and many people that she introduced to me that day. Perhaps more significantly, the natural, comfortable welcome of the community in our class has grown with its members. The openness I felt that first day has matured into an uncommon unity based on mutual respect, shared experiences, and tomfoolery.

Our respect is shown in the sincerity and vulnerability of our communication, from Becca sharing about mental health in assembly, to discussions about the tension between happiness and purpose in Mr. Manion's classes. Our shared experiences range from the ant problem at Dota to being online due to Covid, but also include being Mr. Swanson and Ms. Reist's first classes (and Ms. Sommer's last) at Minnehaha. We all shared determination to win the grade-level tug-of-war every single year of high school–successfully, experienced the Hunger Games theme song over the loudspeaker threatening quarantine for the unlucky, and knew the triumphs and defeats, the epic highs and lows of high school football (some directly, some vicariously). 

And while the challenges we've faced has made us closer, our camaraderie has grown just as much through tailgating on the last day of school, senior pranks that completely didn't bother Dr. DiNardo at all, our sports teams, basketball in the Mendota parking lot, prom, and all of the other common causes we've formed over the last four years. Our class has proven our determination to work hard and play hard, together, an exceptional blessing that characterizes our lively spirit. So even though the last four years have been nothing like high school musical, we have gained two precious gifts from each other: lasting good memories, and the skills for building a thriving community anywhere we go.

Will Carlen—Cultivating Potential


A student sits on a path with grass and trees to the side and looks at the camera smiling

From the time spent at Mendota to the trials and tribulations of COVID-19, our high school experience was far from normal. But I believe there is a silver lining to be found within this hardship.

The challenges of life can beat us down and break us, but if we find the strength to get back up, we can become better people.The unfortunate fact is that life, even without a deadly virus, is filled with suffering. But through the overcoming of suffering, life is punctuated by moments of extreme joy and love.

I completely believe that the challenges each of us had to face throughout high school, willingly or unwillingly, have made us stronger. Looking around this room, I see potential and I see growth. From the awkward immaturity of freshman year, we have all grown with our age and our education. I see future doctors, lawyers, engineers, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. We each have the opportunity to leave a positive mark on this world. I urge each of you to make a path that you truly want to follow and reach your full potential.

Thank you.

Miriam O’Bert—Distinctively Christian


A student wearing glasses sits in front of a field of reeds and smiles at the camera. It appears to be fall.

Over the past four years, we’ve sat through dozens of chapels and memorized countless Bible verses. We’ve attended Bible class, written capstone papers, and had long theological discussions about the afterlife. However, our faith experiences have been anything but traditional. Freshman year, we sat sideways, behind a beam, or even backwards at lunch tables. Sophomore year, we made it to the back of the chapelteria, but still struggled to hear or see some speakers on the small stage. Junior year, everyone was back inside the spacious Hognader chapel… until we were sent home and had to watch chapel via YouTube. Finally, this year, we’ve joined other grades in chapel groups, which was yet another change in an already crazy year.

Despite these inconsistencies in setting, I’ve watched our grade grow in wisdom and stature throughout our time at Minnehaha. Our class has a unique passion for asking challenging questions. While some people just sit back and tune out speakers, I’ve watched you all engage passionately and respectfully with some really tough topics. This year, we’ve tackled everything from Racial Righteousness to mental health, and tried to piece together how God calls us to live out our values in an increasingly turbulent world. 

As we leave Minnehaha and go our separate ways, I have two challenges for you. First, remember that God exists in all spaces, not just at church. As Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." We’ve witnessed this time and time again as a grade and as a school. God exists through Zoom livestreams and in chapel groups, even if we wish another format was possible. God exists in crowded chapelterias just as much as he does in comfy chapel seats. After today, attending chapel and church is likely no longer a requirement, but rather a conscious choice. I encourage all of you to find space to explore your faith and challenge your beliefs, no matter what they may be. It doesn’t matter if it’s a college group or even just meeting up for intentional conversation with a friend—God is present in all types of spaces.

Second, I challenge you all to continue loving others the way God loves us. We’ve been surrounded by adults who have modeled unconditional love and grace, even when that’s not what we deserve. Now it’s our job to pass that love on. Find ways to encourage those you meet along the way whether that be at work or in college. You are one of the kindest and most thoughtful groups of people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and I’ve watched you reflect God’s light into the lives of so many people. 

These last four years have been unconventional, but we made it through together. As we go our separate ways, I hope we remember our time at MA as one filled with perseverance, community, and growth. Our class stuck together, through Dota, quarantine, and everything in between and we managed to become the people we are today. Congratulations Class of 2021, we made it!

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