OTTUMWA — Excitement, claps, gowns and decorated caps lingered at Ottumwa High School’s graduation this weekend.
Graduating seniors got out of their vehicles — adorned with balloons and congratulatory signs — and walked up the front of the steps of the high school. Up there, students had their pictures taken with Superintendent Nicole Kooiker and Principal Richard Hutchinson.
This weekend didn’t constitute a typical commencement ceremony. No graduate walked across the stage, sat side by side with classmates, and no cheers echoed across a crowded room. Nonetheless, graduates were joyful as faculty and families clapped for them.
After graduates walked down the steps, they moved aside to take photos with their families. Natalie Bennett posed at the side of the school, taking pictures with her mom and dad. She said she was hopeful for the future as she held her diploma, moving her red tassel side to side.
Although Bennett was dismayed she didn’t get a traditional ceremony, she was glad the “school did special things” for her class such as the senior yard signs and a proposed date for a traditional in-person graduation ceremony. Bennett is hoping she will be able to attend the ceremony. She plans to attend Indian Hills Community College for a year before transferring to Simpson College to study music education.
Bennett said she couldn’t be more proud of her efforts as she reflected on high school.
“It was a hard four years and it’s a bittersweet end,” she said. “I’ll miss my friends and a lot of the teachers here today. They definitely made an impact on my career choice and on my future.”
Quentin Bishop, senior class president, smiled with pride as he took pictures with the principal, superintendent and his family. Like many students, Bishop was grateful the faculty coordinated the ceremony.
“I’m excited they have an opportunity for us to be able to graduate and have a ceremony,” Bishop said. “I’m really grateful they were able to make it happen.”
Bishop will attend the University of Iowa in the fall before transferring to Des Moines Area Community College to study mortuary science. His mother Lisa, like most parents there, was proud of her child.
“I’m just very proud of him and I’m very proud of the class of 2020, they’ve endured a lot,” Lisa Bishop said.
Colby Aschenbrenner was also among students to step to the side to take pictures with family. He enjoyed himself that day, not disappointed by the different kind of ceremony.
“I started to get a lot spooked because everyone’s hats were blowing off,” he said laughing, “but I mean it was a good time. It was not how I imagined it would go, but it wasn’t bad I enjoyed it.”
Aschenbrenner immediately leaped into his future plans. Right after the ceremony he and his family drove to Kentucky. In Kentucky he plans to attend college to study business and run track. Like the other students, he was grateful staff coordinated the ceremony.
Melanie Alvarado was thankful for the ceremony, content with taking photos with family before heading home to celebrate.
“I was happy and relieved that I finally finished high school; that we did get to have a ceremony to commemorate that we did finish high school,” Alvarado said. Alvarado will attend Indian Hills to study computer science before transferring to a four-year university.
Hunter Bresch didn’t mind the photos. He was excited to attend Indian Hills to study nursing. His celebratory plans extended beyond family dinners and graduation parties. He and his mother Jody planned a parade behind Schaffer stadium where friends came and then gathered at the Bresch residence for pulled pork sandwiches and chocolate and vanilla cake.
Jody almost cried when she watched Hunter graduate, as it was the last graduation she was ever going to watch, as her four other sons graduated from OHS. “I have mixed feelings, because this is a big step and it took a lot to get us here,” she said, “and I’m very very proud of him and feeling a little nostalgic because this is our caboose … it was exciting and sentimental.”
Hunter is a cancer survivor and had to overcome many different challenges, from having to have multiple surgeries to undergoing physical, speech and occupational therapy. Thinking about what her son had to overcome made her beam with happiness. “He’s quite the achiever,” Jody said. “God was good to him in one way because Hunter never ever said ‘I can’t do something,’ he always said ‘if everybody else could do it, I could do it, too.’”
Hutchinson was happy he and staff coordinated the ceremony, but made the effort to continually shine the spotlight on all the graduating seniors.
“The good thing is this isn’t about me, it’s about the class of 2020 and they’ll remember this forever,” he said.