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SHELDON—Rewarding.

Rewarding there was a 2020-21 academic year. Rewarding that while there hoops to jump through, the senior class was able to participate in athletics and activities. Rewarding that unlike last year, the 82 members of the 2021 Sheldon High School senior class will be able to walk across the graduation stage as normal when the ceremony is held at 2 p.m. Sunday in the high school gym.

Rewarding was the word senior Evan Jungers used to describe his senior year because obstacles presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It started off weird because none of us were used to this, not even the staff,” Jungers said. “But as the year went by, the year went smoother and smoother as we all got used to it. To me it was rewarding because there wasn’t a big shutdown again. I wouldn’t want that for my senior year. We could all stay here and go to sporting events. It was more rewarding than not.”

This year’s graduation is happening at its normal time. Last year, graduation was moved to June 28 and held outdoors. Plus the 2020 senior class did not get to finish the academic year indoors as classes were held virtually for the final three months.

The 2021 senior class was able to start the academic year in school albeit with a mask mandate for most of the time, causing a new normal for the students.

“After nearly three years of experiencing high school normally, we learned to make adjustments and continued to adapt throughout the year as restrictions were put in place and lifted,” said senior Rose Hoogers. “For a lot of us, I think the events of the past year made us cherish this final year together even more.”

While there a number of students who had to quarantine at the beginning of the year due to contracting the virus or because of contact tracing, the students adjusted as the COVID numbers continued to drop. Unlike the year before, the senior class was able to spend the full year in the classroom.

“I think our class was more affected than the class of 2020 because it seemed like the whole first half of the senior year was questionable of if we would be in school or not,” said senior Brendan Cain. “We all kind of took school for granted before. We enjoyed getting to have the experiences. We thought we were lucky to be able to have football games and things like that.”

Through it all, Sheldon High School principal Sherrie Zeutenhorst said the senior class has been resilient.

“They made the best of the situation and completed the necessary coursework in order to graduate from high school,” Zeutenhorst said. “Our students have learned to appreciate the opportunity of attending school, especially in person. Also, they have appreciated the opportunity to continue their other activities such as sports, band, choir or speech, although they looked somewhat different this year.”

Jungers was able to have a senior football season. Cain is thankful to have a senior track and field season. He will end the season on the blue oval at Drake Stadium at the state track and field meet in Des Moines. Last year the track and field season was canceled.

Cain was formally a football player but when the pandemic hit, he focused on running, which led to joining the Orabs’ cross country team for the first time.

The move paid off as Cain qualified for the state cross country meet this past fall.

“I was just hoping we would have a season,” Cain said. “The pandemic just made me give cross country a shot and that has obviously changed my life a lot. I had no idea I would do that well. Overall, the success I had was kind of crazy. If I wanted to run in college, I just wanted to give it a shot.”

There were still hiccups, though. A number of band and choir competitions were canceled. While there was a musical, it was moved from the fall to the spring. There was a high school individual and large group speech season, but instead of mass gatherings of schools at one site, schools hosted their own competitions.

“This last year has certainly had its up and downs,” Hoogers said. “The biggest challenge for me was seeing things I work toward be essentially taken away. Though the honor is still there, it was not the same as performing at a music festival or speech competitions. The Iowa High school Music and Speech Associations both had much stricter rules than the Iowa High School Athletic Association, so it was difficult to stay positive about my situation.”

Still, Hoogers was able to achieve a dream she’s had since her freshman year.

When the 2021 seniors takes the stage Sunday, Hoogers will be the class valedictorian.

“After the many disappointments this year has brought, I am glad this is one thing that the pandemic could not take away,” Hoogers said. “I made a goal to become valedictorian my freshman year and it is truly fulfilling to see that dedication and perseverance helped me achieve it.”

Hoogers plans to attend South Dakota State University in Brookings. Cain plans to run at Drake University and Jungers will attend Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon.

Attendance for the graduation ceremony is open to anyone and it will be livestreamed for those who would prefer not to attend. The high school band and choir will perform at the ceremony.

“It will be awesome to honor our graduates in a more traditional manner, being able to hold graduation in our gym and closer to the date of when students completed their coursework,” Zeutenhorst said.

Jungers said it will be rewarding to walk across the stage to accept his diploma Sunday.

“Because the class before us didn’t get it,” Jungers said.