The cars filled three parking lots and two blocks of street spots. The Parkview Auditorium was about as full as it could possibly be; easily several hundred people sitting on bleachers, standing on railings. And all for 34 young men and women who, after 13 years, were bidding Stanley County School District goodbye.

The Sunday, May 19 graduation of the class of 2019 was, like most graduations, an emotional one. Hands clapped and tears fell as students, teachers and even Fort Pierre Mayor Gloria Hanson took their turns delivering speeches to the, now, ex-students. Valedictorian Riley Hannum and Mayor Hanson both focused their time at the podium on what the graduating class itself thought about the future.

“When I was brainstorming ideas about how to write this, I always came back to the idea of talking about each and every one of my classmates,” Hannum said, before he listed off some of his classmates’ favorite school memories and their hopes for days to come. He had asked his peers to fill out a questionnaire, and listed their responses for the benefit of their friends and family.

“I… want to personally thank you all for being such great classmates and great friends throughout the years,” he said as he closed his speech. “I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors.”

Hanson, who delivered the commencement speech, also crafted her comments based on students’ responses to questions she posed them earlier in the month. But, having several decades of experience on the young adults she addressed, her speech focused more on the practical — at times harsh — truths that the graduates will have to face as they move forward in life.

“When I graduated, I think I just assumed that the class of 1961 would be buddies forever... but the harsh truth is, that won’t be 100 percent true of every one of your classmates,” Hanson said. “You all seem to be pretty realistic in your expectations; hopeful that you could maintain the good friendships you built in high school but also knowing it’s more realistic to expect to maintain those friendships with just a few of your classmates.”

She also said she was gladdened by the fact that many of the students said they had plans to stay in (or eventually return to) Stanley County and/or Fort Pierre. She promised that Fort Pierre would continue to improve as a community, so that, in her words, “Fort Pierre is a place you want to return to; to live and work and raise a family.”

After Hanson’s speech, the school played a photo montage of all the graduates coming up from infants to adolescents, and after that the graduates gave flowers to loved ones and finally received their diplomas. All of this, of course, was set to much fanfare and photo-taking by the audience.

To close the ceremony. Stanley County School District Superintendent Dr. Joel Price asked the students to rise. “By the authority vested in me by the state of South Dakota and the Stanley County Board of Education, you are now graduates of Stanley County High School,” he said, perhaps for the last time, given his imminent July 1 retirement.

Tassels flipped, caps were thrown, and the class of 2019 walked out of Parkview Auditorium not as students, but alumni. It was a drab, cold day, but at least for the moment, the community that surrounded them was bright and warm.

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