Thousands of high school seniors throughout Minnesota have walked across a stage and receive their diplomas this weekend. May they have received a cheer so thunderous that the echoes still reverberate in their minds at the 25-year reunions.
If ever a graduating class deserves to be hoisted upon shoulders for a victory lap, this is it, the class of 2021.
Rather than lament all that was taken away from their senior year — the experiences, the togetherness, the regular drumbeat of a school year — let us celebrate their perseverance and willingness to stay engaged after being dealt a crummy hand.
I always find it fitting that graduations take place in football stadiums, gymnasiums and auditoriums. It is in those venues where many high school students sharpen character traits that will guide them through life.
Lessons inside classrooms are the bricks for their foundations. Involvement in sports, theater, band and other extra curricular activities is the mortar.
I hold deep fondness for high school sports because of what they provide: countless additional opportunities for young people, still trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in, to learn and to shape their values.
Those teenagers put themselves out there to succeed and to fail, to be humbled and probably embarrassed at times.
They learn that playing sports is no longer juice boxes and animal crackers, and that they need to make themselves accountable. They get coached hard and experience devastating losses that make tears flow.
Athletes master time management — hopefully — in balancing schoolwork and sports commitments. And they certainly understand sacrifice, dragging their sleep-deprived bodies out of bed for 6 a.m. workouts in the summer while other kids sleep in.
It is so worth it, whether a high school career lasts one year or four years, or whether you win a state title or play on a team that loses more than it wins.
High school sports provide us so many wonderful individual success stories, and one of my favorites is the story of Luke Budzyn, a senior who was on the East Ridge basketball team.
Budzyn never played on the top traveling teams as a kid. He tried out for the freshman team at East Ridge and didn't see his name on the sheet posted outside the locker room. He had been cut.
"I was pretty devastated," he said last week.
Pay close attention to what came next. He didn't quit. In fact, he offered to run the scoreboard for freshman games.
Think about that. Some of his close friends made the team and he didn't and that was deeply disappointing, but he still asked if he could run the clock at games.
"I wanted to do that just because of how much I loved being around basketball and just seeing my guys play," he said.
His guys. Good friends.
Budzyn played AAU and kept working hard to improve. He tried out for the sophomore team and made it.
He played JV as a junior, scoring 42 points in one game. He was on varsity this season as a backup and has accepted an invitation to play at St. John's starting in the fall.
"Set your goals," he said, "and don't let anyone tell you what you can't do."
What a perfect message for every young athlete. Being involved in sports helps build character and then provides a platform to reveal it.
Graduations are a time for reflection, to reminisce about the journey, the favorite moments and even the struggles. This one will be especially emotional.
For me, sure, as a proud parent of a son who will walk across the stage. But pride also in seeing other kids whom I had the pleasure of coaching in various sports back when all they cared about were juice boxes and animal crackers after games. They feel like my boys, too. Except they are grown up now.
The pandemic has tested all these graduates in ways that we can't fully comprehend. What a challenging chapter in their lives. They showed us their resilience in reaching this moment, fully prepared to conquer whatever comes next.