COOLIDGE — The pandemic was able to stop nearly all school events, but unlike last year, 171 Coolidge High School and Coolidge Alternative Program students were able to have their live graduation ceremony.

Principal Ben Armstrong told the crowd gathered last Thursday at Larry Delbridge Stadium that with the metaphors coming out of COVID being so obvious, it was a struggle to say something profound, or new. Nevertheless, Armstrong stressed the importance of heeding the lessons of the last year and a half.

“I thought long and hard about why we had to go through such a hard time and what silver lining there might be,” Armstrong said. “The cancellation of milestone events, loss of loved ones, and financial hardships reminded us to be grateful. Athletic events, prom, or graduation has been less than guaranteed. We are currently amongst our friends and family and need never to take that for granted.”

Student speakers similarly told their classmates to focus on what truly mattered. Salutatorian Tanda Marsh noted that the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, as well as political and social unrest over the past year, showed that graduates had proven themselves in the face of uncertainty like few other classes.

“A faith that has not been tested is a faith that cannot be trusted,” Marsh said. “This year is not one for the books because of COVID-19, but because of the way our class and students of the class of 2021 around the country rose above this pandemic.”

Other students who spoke at the event included twin valedictorians Ethan and Evan Hodge, and closing remarks were given by FFA Chapter President Emily Schmitt.

In addition to the pandemic, this year’s graduation was special in several other ways. Outgoing Superintendent Charie Wallace wished the students well and said goodbye after decades of work within regional education.

“Fifty-two years ago I was on this very field, walked across the stage, received my diploma and began my career,” Wallace said. “It is ironic yet heartwarming that I am ending my career on this very field, named after my classmate Larry Delbridge.”