By Jo Mathis AAPS News Editor
History was made last night as the Victory Bell at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School’s Hollway field rang out in celebration of the 472 graduates in the class of 2021 at their Commencement Ceremony. The event was just the latest part of a historic senior year that will be memorable for the graduates for both the personal achievements tied with finishing high school as well as living through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Principal Tracey Lowder thanked and congratulated the graduates for making it through the twists and turns of an unprecedented year to reach graduation. “This group has preserved through four years, but the last year and a half, being the most challenging as they’ve had to spend time learning new terminology, new learning platforms, picking up new catchphrases like let me share my screen, can you turn your camera on please, and my personal favorite, you’re still on mute,” Lowder said.
In giving the keynote address, English teacher Sean Sabo touched on the historic nature of this past year and how it will forever change the graduates’ lives. Sabo encouraged the graduates to honor the people and things we lost over the past year. He says the sense of loss was a significant part of their senior year, but the graduates gained from their memorable year as well and this should be celebrated.
Sabo highlighted experiences gained such as time to watch Netflix, ability to remain in sweatpants 24/7 and that special joy that comes from watching a well-meaning teacher, like himself, pouring out their heartfelt wisdom on zoom, not realizing they’re on mute.
More lasting knowledge was gained by the graduates as well. “A new and deeper understanding of the value, the sacredness of sharing a space with other people like we are tonight,” Sabo said. “Or maybe it’s the other way, maybe it’s a newfound appreciation and understanding of the value of solitude. Or maybe it’s both.”
The graduates also gained first person knowledge and experience of how radically things can change. Sabo said never again will the class of 2021 think nothing ever changes because of what they lived through. “The world and anything in it can dramatically change,” Sabo said. “You have witnessed it and you have the power, and the experience to help bring about change to insist on it when it is necessary, and to react intelligently and creatively when it comes. You won’t ever let anyone tell you that the way things are, is how they will remain. You know better.”
The sense of rapid change also played a large role in the remarks given by class president Sarah Baybeck.
Hello, and welcome to Pioneer High School’s 2021 Commencement. I am so happy to be here today. One month ago, it was hard to imagine an in-person ceremony, so thank you to the administration, faculty and staff, and to science for making this special day happen.
Thank you to all the parents, family, and friends for showing up today, and every day these past 17 or 18 years. And finally, we should also pat ourselves on the back for making it here today. Congratulations to the class of 2021. We did it.
Welcome to the new normal. The phrase that has become as infamous over the past year and a half as let me steal your screen. A lot of us cringe when we hear this phrase, and for good reason. The new normal is frustrating because it is a world seemingly out of our control. Even though it seems like the new normal is a pandemic phrase, there have always been new normal.
Four years ago, the new normal for us was joining a 2,000-person school and navigating harder classes, making new friends, and finding bathrooms randomly locked. One year ago, the new normal became a world of loss, of misconnections, and of reminding teachers, “You’re on mute.” One month ago, the new normal became the happy reality of returning to in-person activities like this commencement, and cramming two semesters of senior year activities into two weeks.
Of course, not all new normal are the same, but there’s a common thread, change. Over the past four years, and the last year in particular, we have adapted to significant changes in how we interact with others, and how we learn, and how we live our lives. Some of us have experienced a measurable loss, while others have been okay. These changes have been disruptive. They have been exhausting, and they have been trying.
However, throughout this change we stayed the course. When we couldn’t get out of bed, we brought school to bed. When the past year handed us lost lives, lost milestones, and disrupted patterns, we continued to show up at school, at work, and in the community. And we kept the pressure on Superintendent Swift to make sure we still got that snow day.
In the midst of change, we all kept working hard, whatever that looks like for each of us, to make sure we got here today.
The other constant throughout these normals, is people, our people, you know the ones. When zoom ended the possibility of sidebar conversations, we connected with our classmates in the chat and kept our teachers entertained. Instead of walking from second hour to third hour, we met friends all over Ann Arbor for walks so we could stay in touch. When we could no longer share snacks in class we sent each other letters, we dropped off cookies, and we shared tik toks to make sure our peers knew they were loved in a time of great distress.
For us, another important group of people stayed steady throughout the past four years, the faculty and staff at Pioneer. As our lives and their lives inevitably changed over the past four years, they kept working day and night, to make sure we could still grow into our full selves as students and as people. Even though we complain about the workload, old habits die hard, we remain so grateful for our loving and dedicated teachers.
I hope you’re not too tired of the concept of new normals, as they will keep coming. In life, especially for our generation, there’s an accelerating pace of new normals. But class of 2021, we are prepared to tackle them.
We have persevered through this disruption. Pioneer has given us the tools and the connections to face these new normals. If we keep showing up and working hard, if we stay connected, and if we remember the wisdom and dedication of our teachers, we will succeed. We’ve conquered this new normal. Now let’s conquer the next.
The following special honors were presented to graduates in the class of 2021 at the Commencement Ceremony.
•Horatio N. Chute Award – Syed Ahnaf
•Alice Porter Award – Sarah Baybeck
•Mary Ellen Lewis Humanitarian Service Award – Gabrielle Pacifico
•Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Award – Neida Rodriguez-Venegas and Taurean Burns
•Ray Pittman Outstanding Senior Athlete Award – Quoia Sam and Matthew Segal