Much of Sunday’s 2020 Indianola High School graduation was what graduation always is — a chance to say goodbye.
“It was a nice good-bye for the year,” said graduate Ashley Rockhold, who plans to attend Simpson College next year. “We haven't been able to see each other since we left for spring break. So it was nice to kind of see everyone again one last time.”
That last goodbye almost didn’t happen.
When schools closed in March, Governor Kim Reynolds’ executive orders forbade gatherings of more than 10 people. Indianola school district prepared accordingly, laying plans for a virtual graduation to replace the in-person ceremony set for May 24.
But seniors blew up those plans, circulating a petition asking that the district hold off in hopes that a live graduation ceremony could be held.
Sunday was that ceremony.
Graduate Madeline Teske said she was glad the district listened to its seniors.
“It was really nice,” she said, particularly the district’s willingness to listen to what students wanted. “It made it seem like they cared. They didn’t just blow us off and say we’re having a virtual graduation. We got a say in it.”
But it wasn’t quite as usual. Each senior was allowed to have two people in the Blake Fieldhouse for the ceremony.
A live stream allowed Gabbie Egenberger to watch the ceremony from her car in the parking lot as her sister, Valerie, walked across the stage.
“I’m glad they were able to do it all together,” she said. “It is a big thing for seniors.”
“All my family was tuned in and they blew up my phone afterwards with all the text messages,” said Scott Messamaker, whose daughter Jenny was among the graduates. “At least they were able to do that. We’re pretty proud of her.”
For some, the pared-down audience and wider-open spaces were a benefit over the more crowded, traditional ceremonies.
“I kind of liked it better,” said Tim McKnight, whose son, Matt, was among the graduates.
With 249 in the graduating class, the Blake Fieldhouse was maxed out at about 700 in attendance. Up to 450 tuned in via You Tube.
The ceremony featured the traditional procession, but this year Pomp and Circumstance was recorded, rather than played live. Chairs for seniors were spaced about 6 feet apart, while family members could choose among groups of two seats. While the seats weren’t assigned, they also weren’t to be moved.
A small group of Indianola students sang the National Anthem, followed by the traditional welcome from Indianola School Superintendent Art Sathoff, who offered his regular greeting, but a somewhat different message this year.
In recent years, Sathoff noted, he had encouraged students to know themselves or to work hard and treat people right.
“This year I’m going to urge you to do something that runs counter to what we usually tell students,” he said. Most of the time, he went on, school officials encourage students to action — to set goals, to work hard, to be involved and organized.
“We rightly feel like those things lead to success,” he said. “But I also really believe that who you are is more important than what you do. You don’t make progress on that front without some reflection and contemplation.
“So my advice to you is to don’t just do something. Sit there.”
Sathoff told students that adulthood likely would be busy.
“In the midst of the busyness, don’t just do something,” he advised. “Sit there, stop and think about the why behind the what and the how. If you spend time reflecting and being in the moment, life is going to be more satisfying. There are times when you need to sit and be still.”
Randy Stone, theatre arts teacher, who is retiring this year, talked to the seniors about failure — starting with a carefully orchestrated fall as he came up the steps to the stage while juggling.
The point, he said, was not that Mr. Stone is old, can’t juggle and falls down a lot.
The point was, he said, “If you fall down, you’ve got to get up again. But what they often don’t bother to tell you is that falling down hurts. It hurts a lot.”
The physical pain is often the easiest to get over, he said, it’s the hurt to ego, self-esteem and confidence that can leave you feeling like a failure. But you are not.
“You are a better person after a fall,” he said. “Don’t just get up from a fall, jump up and say ‘wow, that was a learning experience that I am never going to do again. I’ll probably fall in another way.’ But I will get back up and I will learn from that.”
Falling also can teach people to be better to themselves and to others, he added. As for juggling? Few people are good at it, he says, with balls or in life.
“My advice — concentrate on one ball at a time,” he said. “Accomplish one task and move on.”
Senior Tom Krapfl, student body president, said he had learned the downside of focusing too much on one thing. Krapfl recalled his early vow to be valedictorian of his class.
For the first three years of his high school career, “pretty much everything I did revolved around academics, because that’s what I thought success was,” he said. Often, he stayed home from various events to prepare for a quiz or a test. But last summer, when he travelled to Zambia to teach seventh-graders, his definition of success changed.
“I saw so many children with absolutely nothing, no shoes, no clothes, no food and sometimes no family,” he said. Despite it all, they were happy. “What mattered to those kids wasn’t all my achievements, but simply the fact that I was there.”
He learned from that, he said, what really mattered — family, friends and being there for them.
That’s what brought Mike Alfstad out on Sunday – to watch his son, Seth, graduate.
“It was enjoyable for me — my son graduated,” he said. “I didn’t care about the ceremony itself. He was happy to be there, and I was there for him.”