2021 Huron graduates are encouraged to ‘dare mighty things’ in school’s 53rd commencement

Umbrellas in tow, 447 River Rats receive diplomas at a rain-drenched Riverbank Stadium

The entire commencement ceremony is available here.

Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

It rained and rained. And then it rained even harder.

To many gathered at Riverbank Stadium Wednesday night for the commencement ceremony the Huron High School Class of 2021, it was almost a fitting ending to a year like no other. Another thing to accept, endure, and make the best of? But of course.

“We’re River Rats!” said Assistant Principal Michael Sumerton before the ceremony. “This is how we roll. Let’s go!”

And so they did. With. parents, friends and grandparents huddled under umbrellas and ponchos in the stands and behind them on the field, the 447-strong Class of 2021 listened to some inspiring words, and then accepted their diplomas. The rain mercifully stopped about 15 minutes before the end, which allowed for lots of congratulatory hugs and photo ops – sans umbrellas.

Though purposefully kept shorter than in years past, the ceremony was a step toward tradition following the 2020 high school commencements of winding car processionals through cheering faculty lined up on the sidewalks.

Principal Janet Schwamb, whose voice would later break as she briefly mentioned her upcoming retirement, congratulated the seniors on their level of engagement and accomplishments during an unprecedented and difficult time.

“You have gone through part of your junior year and all of your senior year enmeshed in a global COVID pandemic,” she said.  “Despite this, as you can see, it is evident that Huron’s class of 2021 is ready to make their mark in our community, state, country, and world.”

Schwamb recalled that NASA’s Rover, Perseverance landed on Mars recently, and that the parachute that helped this Rover land on Mars unfurled to reveal a seemingly random pattern of colors.

NASA officials revealed it contained a hidden message written in computer code, as well as a reference to the COVID pandemic: an image of the ancient Greek symbol for healing and medicine in honor of the work of frontline medical workers during the pandemic.

The message on the parachute was cracked within hours, Schwamb said, noting that the red and white pattern spelled out “Dare Mighty Things”—the Perseverance team’s motto taken from a quotation from a speech given by President Theodore Roosevelt:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

“In his speech,” said Schwamb, “President Roosevelt points out that it is not the opinion of the critic that counts, the one that points out someone else’s failures ,or ways that something could have been done better. But instead, it is actually the one who tries and tries again and gets past defeats, whose efforts are worthy.”

Little did anyone know 15 months ago what was ahead, she said.

“Many of the events and opportunities that seniors usually enjoy were not possible due to constraints and health guidelines that prevented them from happening,” she said. “We all know how difficult it was and much you gave up. We also know how much perseverance you showed. Whatever direction you will now be going, whether to work, military service, a gap year, or a university or college, you are more than ready. As you leave Huron and go on to your next steps, dare mighty things. Don’t settle for the status quo, think outside the box, be part of the solution to problems. Persevere, for you have shown you have the grit, you have what it takes to be successful. 

Of the 447 students graduating in the class of 2021, she noted that 91 students are graduating with a grade point average of 3.9 or above.

In addition, she noted that among the graduates, there were:

  • 10 Presidential scholar candidates, 27 National Merit semifinalists, and 26 finalists.
  • 46 students who have earned a “commended status” with a GPA of 3.2 to 3.49; 201 students who have earned a “with honors” diploma with a 3.5 GPA or over. This totals 247 students with commended or with honors diplomas.
  • 282 students wearing colored cords represent annual honor roll recognition with a 3.5 or above GPA (grade point average). There were four-color categories:
  • 60 students wore a white cord signifying 1 year on the annual honor roll
  • 30 students wore a bronze cord signifying 2 years on the annual honor roll
  • 39 students wore a silver cord signifying 3 years on the annual honor roll
  • 153 students wore a green cord signifying 4 years on the annual honor roll
  • 75 graduates in National Honor Society wore wearing gold cords
  • 43 students who are IB Diploma Programme Candidates. These students wore a white stole with the IB logo on it.
  • 23 students who are Programme candidates, and also wore a white stole with the IB logo.
Aakarsh Verma, who will study neuroscience at the University of Michigan, delivered the following commencement address:

Aakarsh Verma, who will study neuroscience at the University of Michigan in the fall, presented the student address:

To be, or not to be, 

Is that even a question?

I have a better question—one that has been brewing deep inside of my mind since the beginning of this school year: What does it mean to be?

What does it mean to be alive right now?

Is it to burrow away in my room and to ask, “why is this happening?”

Is it to wake up every day to social unrest and to ask, “why us?”

Is it to gaze upon my reflection every morning and to ask, “why me?”

I couldn’t allow these questions, important as they may be, to consume me. Slowly, I stopped asking “why” and began to embrace reality.

This is happening. This is now. This is me. 

These daily affirmations coursed through me, invigorating me with the energy and the strength that I needed to persevere. The double shot mocha java that I made every morning probably helped, too. In my virtual classes, I rediscovered my passion for creative writing and deepened my love for the performing arts. Even on days that I felt fatigued, I would discuss history and explore biology from the comfort of my bed, under heaps of blankets. Regardless of my motivation on any given day, I vowed to press on.  

To be alive right now is to be a fighter. Each day, all of us choose to press on—in remembrance of what we’ve lost and in recognition of what we still stand to gain. 

But the months began to drag on and I fell into a dangerous trap that many of us are all too familiar with. I fell prey to the vicious cycle of anticipating that every “tomorrow” would be the exact same: regimented, unchanging, and dull. 

What does it mean to be a student right now? 

I stared blankly at a Global Politics assignment one early October evening, mulling over this question, when my phone screen lit up with the notification. Our newspaper, the Huron Emery posted on their social media this glorious headline: Huron Varsity Football Defeats City-Rival Pioneer. To me, this was a reminder that, even when I’m not present in the brick-and-mortar hallways, I am a part of something bigger here at Huron: an enduring tradition of excellence against the odds. 

Since our district’s closure last March, I had not taken notice of the wonderful things that all of us had been doing. And so for the rest of the year, I observed. 

Across the county, many of us had been getting involved in political activism. We attended rallies, educated ourselves and others in our lives, and assisted various political candidates and local movements. 

Against the odds, we helped to affect change that we wished to see in this world.

The women’s water polo team secured the district championship. The men’s basketball team ended a historic season with 20 wins and one loss. The men’s tennis team racked up eighteen wins and, again, just one loss. And even when a season wasn’t guaranteed, the women’s field hockey team continued to hold practices. 

Against the odds, we delivered unthinkable athletic results. 

Our outstanding arts programs did not falter in the face of adversity either; each ensemble utilized novel technologies to rehearse together and orchestrate full-length virtual performances. Our theatre program, Huron Players, premiered its rendition of Typecast, a comedy, over Zoom. And Huron Cheer continued to show up and champion our sports teams, tirelessly lending their energy and good vibes throughout the year. 

Against the odds, we continued to boundlessly and jubilantly create and share our art. 

Many seniors received recognition for their outstanding accomplishments this year. Twenty-seven of us were recognized as National Merit Semifinalists. The Mock Trial team advanced to nationals for the first time in the team’s six-year history.

Against the odds, we transcended expectations. 

Against the odds, the Class of 2021 transformed our community, embarked on ambitious creative endeavors, and—as we always do, in everything that we do—we excelled. 

Still, even this interminable list of grand accomplishments does not alone reflect what the Class of 2021 is. We must not forget about the interactions that define us. 

Messages from a friend who was worried about why I hadn’t come to class for a few days. 

Snapchat stories of people socially distancing outside, screaming the lyrics to a Taylor Swift song about relationship struggles because, pandemic or not, high school drama always finds a way.

A community coming together in harmony last October when Rachel, a dynamic, honest, courageous person—and a friend to all—passed away. A community standing together, recognizing that we were never apart to begin with. 

To be alive right now is to be a fighter. It is to be equal parts resolute and versatile. 

To be a student right now is to be a part of something bigger. It is to be your peers’ ardent supporters through and through. 

But to be in Huron’s Graduating Class of 2021 is to be all of the above; a fighter, an Imagineer, a shoulder to lean on, an activist, an achiever. 

To be or not to be, that is the question. We know that the answer is yes, but it isn’t to simply be

It is to be effervescent and compassionate; to be strong and authentic. It is to be beautiful, as we always have been. 

Class of 2021, hold on to these traits as you venture out into the world and use what you’ve learned these past four years to shape a better tomorrow. 

Congratulations everyone!  

We’ve laughed and we’ve cried, loved and lost—on the banks of the Huron. 

These very words inspired Charles Berofsky, Mary Collins, and Kaye Hoffmeyer to write our school’s alma mater to celebrate Huron’s 50th anniversary.

These three Huron alumni wrote a piece that speaks to the heart and soul of our school. 

Performed by this year’s virtual music ensembles and produced by senior Sebastian Berofsky, it is my honor to introduce our alma mater, “On The Banks Of The Huron.”

To see more photos, visit the Ann Arbor Public Schools Facebook page.

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