SPENCER — The Spencer-Van Etten Class of 2020 gathered together one last time on Friday morning for the first of three graduation ceremonies — but the only one that will feature every Panther earning their diploma this year.

“I know this is not how we imagined spending our senior year, but it’s the cards we were dealt. This turn of events has been incredibly difficult for many of us, but we are still here graduating together,” S-VE Valedictorian Paige Grube told her classmates.

Grube spoke of the S-VE Class of 2020’s journey — from finding their way as freshmen to becoming upperclassmen leading the way and eventually having their senior year cut short due to COVID-19.

“High school is not just about the senior festivities we wanted to partake in. It has been about our journey since freshman year, our accomplishments throughout the years, our friendships and relationships, how we grew as people,” Grube said.

Teacher and coach Jeremy Kastenhuber, who was the keynote speaker, believes the Class of 2020 showed its character through the pandemic — and also helped him get through a tough time.

“They say that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it — and I find that statement to be especially evident in the wake of everything that you’ve been through and everything I’ve been through in the last 10 months,” Kastenhuber said.

“As most of you know, I lost my father in October of this past year and I can tell you that it is the single hardest experience of my life. I was not convinced that I could come back and be the same person, let alone the same teacher or coach,” he added. “It truly was my darkest hour. But I remember a dear friend of mine telling me that ‘life is for living.’ Thank you Ron Miller. It was those words that allowed me to start the process of healing, knowing that my father would want me to be happy.”

Kastenhuber credited the students and staff at S-VE with showing him he could persevere and move forward.

“Many of you were welcoming me back and telling me you missed me — and that’s when I knew with certainty, I could do it,” he said. “I could definitely do it. So again thank you because without the love and support of many of you, I’m not sure I could have done it.”

Grube also spoke of how the entire Spencer-Van Etten community always steps up to help one of their own.

“So many people in this community put together a fundraiser for my dad (when he was sick) that not only changed his life, but mine. The support that this community has given my family is (immeasurable) and I would not be standing here today without it. I’ve been blessed to live in such a loving and caring community my whole life,” she said.

One person who was unable to attend graduation was Salutatorian Ava Bruehwiler. While she wasn’t there in person, she was honored with a round of applause and signs made by classmates and teachers.

“I would also like to say something about Ava Bruehwiler. Ava has been one of my best friends since kindergarten, and she’s been a great friend to me and so many others ... She is one of the most dedicated and hardworking people I know and it makes me really sad that she isn’t up here giving her speech today,” Grube said. “I know she really appreciates all the love and support that you have given her, and we have all been so lucky to grow up in a community that rallies around its students and truly cares about us.”

While Kastenhuber may be a teacher and coach at S-VE, he shared some things he learned from the Class of 2020 along the way.

“I want to thank you for showing me that kindness still exists in this world —thank you Samantha Deppe and Shannon Connor,” he said. “I want to thank you for teaching me about selflessness and what it means to be a true teammate — thank you Blaine. I want to thank you for showing me that despite great personal adversity, you can still smile — thank you Noah and Paige.”

Kastenhuber ended this speech by thanking the entire class, while also sending them off with some advice.

“I do want to extend a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you. You’re all wonderful and I’ve enjoyed every step of our journey together,” he said.

“Never allow anyone to determine what or how you should think about anything,” Kastenhuber told the Class of 2020. “Determine for yourself what is best and stand firmly behind your beliefs. Be confident in your abilities no matter what the task at hand, and if things don’t go exactly how you want them to, that’s OK. Sometimes life makes us reroute on our journey to success. And please don’t forget that how you do anything is how you do everything.”

Grube assured her classmates that the COVID-19 pandemic and everything that it took away from them will not stop them from going out into the world and being successful.

“While missing most of our senior year may seem incredibly hard now, we will look back on this moment in 10 years and realize it was just one minor setback of many that we have gone through,” Grube said. “I know that we all have bright futures ahead of us, whether you are entering the workforce or furthering your education in college. Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way. We appreciate you.”

Editor’s Note: S-VE held another graduation on Friday evening with half of the Class of 2020 and a limited number of family and friends. The third ceremony with the other half of the class and their family and friends is scheduled for today at the high school football field.

Pat McDonald can be reached at (570) 888-9643 ext. 228 or editor@morning-times.com. Follow Managing Editor Pat McDonald on Twitter @PatMcDonaldMT.

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