‘Joy in the small things’: Helena celebrates the class of 2021

By NATHAN HOWELL | Staff Writer

HELENA – Not even a downpour could stop the Helena class of 2021 from celebrating their completion of high school at their graduation commencement ceremony on May 26.

After surviving a year plagued by a pandemic, more than 300 seniors at Helena High School fought the rain as their last challenge before receiving their diplomas and moving on to the next phase of their lives.

Instead of focusing on the challenges that the class faced over the last year, valedictorian Sydney Aldrich addressed her class with an inspirational message about the value in finding your own way in life.

“Just as all of us have forged our own paths to be here today, we will continue to forge paths in old or new directions,” Aldrich said. “If your future were to be a painting, what would it look like? Would it be a revolutionary mastery of perspective like Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens,’ allowing your work to be defined by one key element and being imperative to its development? Or would it look like the great feat of human talent that is the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, painted by the great Michelangelo? Regardless of what your future looks like, a painting does not become a masterpiece overnight.”

She continued, “Anyone who has ever used Google Maps will know that there are several routes that will lead to your destination. Life is like this. You are standing at the beginning and your aspirations and goals are at the other end. There may be examples and helpful experiences of others to guide you, but you are the driver, you will choose your own path. It doesn’t matter what goal you set, or how long it takes to achieve as long as it is yours and you believe in it. Your future is yours, never let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Through each stage of life there are often expectations set by television and movies that turn out to be a misrepresentation of what life is like. Salutatorian Alexandra “Sasha” Zannis reflected on some of the misconceptions she recalled, and asked everyone to look back on what really happened as a lesson for the future.

“High school was not all I thought it would be. When I watched ‘High School Musical’ as a kid, I think they lied to us,” Zannis joked. “Never once have we stood on the tables in the cafeteria and joined together in song. I want you to imagine and think of your fondest memories for the past four years. I know that might be hard with COVID, but we have gotten through a lot. It has been hard to maintain that same excellence that I know we hold ourselves to, but I am proud of all of you for getting through it. I want to thank you for being by my side through thick and thin. I love you all, and I will truly never forget you. Remember we are all in this together.”

Helena Mayor Brian Puckett commended the class on an outstanding year of athletic, artistic and academic accomplishments. He told the graduating class to focus on what makes each of them great and pursue that in their adult lives.

“There is one thing that I will challenge each of you to do,” Puckett said. “That is to follow your passion, find you purpose and continue your drive. No matter what you do, whether it is going to the next stages in college, whether it is going to work or starting your own business. Find your passion and follow it.”

Change is something that has been a ubiquitous theme for most, if not every, class of seniors graduating this year. HHS Principal April Brand said that watching the way this class adapted and overcame those changes was a source of continued inspiration for her.

“Over the course of the year we have all been on the same rollercoaster that you have been on. Unlike any other graduating class before you, I can say with confidence that you all have navigated the most unusual school year to date, and maybe the most unusual school year ever,” Brand said. “You see change is hard and you have all been asked to change a lot this year. Change can also bring about growth and you have all grown so much. You have learned to be strong, adjust and navigate an evolving senior year. You have learned to persevere and develop resilience. You have learned how to handle it when things don’t go your way. You have learned to find joy in the really small things, celebrating whenever they feel normal for a second. When we face these future challenges, don’t forget to be aware of the needs of others and celebrate and find joy in the small things.”

This sentiment was echoed by the senior class president Kya Gardner who asked her fellow graduates to use change as an opportunity to create solutions instead drowning in misery. She told them to hold on to what they have experienced as use it as a guiding light in all they do.

“Look on the bright side,” Gardner said. “You made the best of it. I know there were many hills to climb to get here and I am so happy to see you all sitting here in the present day. There will be many hills to climb in your life and I want to challenge you to come up with solutions and to choose the right path with the knowledge that was bestowed upon us.”

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.