SMEC graduates tell their own tales of success

Published 6:53 pm Thursday, May 23, 2024

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Chapters were closed Thursday afternoon, but the stories are far from told.

That was the general feeling for the 29 Southern Minnesota Education Consortium (SMEC) students who graduated outdoors beneath blue skies and sun. It was the largest class to graduate from the school to date.

“What a year it has been,” Principal Deana Dontje told students as she opened the program. “There has never been a lack of ideas you wanted to try.”

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Dontje listed the accomplishments of this year’s class of 2024, which was at the forefront of holding the school’s first Spirit Week (think homecoming) and first prom just to name a couple.

But while the accomplishments of this year’s class will set themselves in the history of SMEC, it was important to let the students tell their own stories Thursday.

“Our kids have worked so hard. They really embraced the different learning styles. The kids just advocated for themselves,” Dontje said. “These kids have come a long way and have fought a lot of battles.”

Thursday’s three student speakers laid bare some of those battles, telling their personal stories of adversity, but more importantly their achievements.

They spoke of staff that guided them and of goals they set and reached.

“I set a goal for myself when I started here,” said Courtney Lowy of Lake City, who thanked staff for being the support system she needed to succeed. “My entire life I was told I wouldn’t graduate. To sum it all up, I wouldn’t have made it without my entire support team. Thanks guys!”

Lyle’s Ashlynn Schewe opened wide before those attending her own struggles with depression, anxiety — struggles she told those gathered that started as early as 12-years-old.

Despite hurdles and bumps in the road, Schewe came to SMEC determined to succeed and determined not to let those things define who she is.

“I think it would have made 12-year-old me proud,” she said with a finishing smile.

Anxiety and depression were common themes for Lyle’s Nika Wilking, who has been with SMEC for the last three years. There was a bluntness to the speech.

“Without them I don’t know where I would honestly be today,” Wilking said. “In 10th grade I joined SMEC. Since then, I’ve been here with amazing people and amazing teachers.”

By telling their own tales Thursday, Dontje hoped that these students were not only proud to be where they were today, but that they might serve as inspiration for others.

“There are kids sitting out in the audience who now maybe think they can do it also,” she said.