One for the history books: GCHS holds "socially distanced" graduation

Lauren Wegmann (left) and Joseph Janssen (right) were two of the featured speakers at Saturday night's Grundy Center High School commencement. They also shared valedictorian honors. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photos)
Robert Maharry
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY CENTER- Nobody knew exactly what to expect heading into Saturday night’s commencement ceremony at Grundy Center High School.


It had been rescheduled from the original date of May 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and students, teachers and administrators hadn’t seen each other for months. But when they got back together—at a six-foot distance, of course—they picked up right where they left off and celebrated a shortened senior year that none of them will ever forget.


“At the end of the day, the plan came together, and we were able to get it in the way we wanted to. But back in April, we didn’t know that,” GCHS Principal Michael Vokes said. “The seniors kept coming up and saying they wanted the day to be unique and special…The class of 2020 is what makes this thing unique and special. It’s not the type of program. It’s you as kids and you as families that make this thing special.”


As the ceremony began and the graduates and their families filed in, Vokes asked the audience to “extend some grace” due to the lack of rehearsal beforehand. Once it got going, however, it was hard to tell.


Student speakers Francesca Brown, Jack Kelley, Lauren Wegmann and Joseph Janssen shared their fondest memories of high school along with advice for the future, and a pair of pre-recorded musical pieces—one from the high school band, the musical performance of “From Now On” from “The Greatest Showman” and another of Beth Bockes and Emily Boquet performing the alumni song—played over the loudspeakers during the hour-long event. Vokes also shared a personal story from his childhood and how an act of kindness from someone he’d never met and never saw again changed his life, and he expounded on the 2019-2020 theme of “Dream Small.”


“It’s oftentimes the culmination of the smallest, tiniest daily decisions that lead us to where we are,” he said. “We know the impact of this in light of all the news we read about today, all that we hear about and all that we see.”


Wegmann and Janssen were honored as co-valedictorians, while Kelley was the salutatorian. Gold cord, silver cord and gold tassel honorees were also recognized.  


Dr. Clayton Edwards, a middle school math teacher at Grundy Center, gave a memorable speech recounting his personal interactions with members of the Class of 2020 with his trademark brand of humor mixed in—even recalling one student who called him “her favorite teacher,” even though she hated teachers.


“I am really honored that a class I had five or six years ago thought enough of me to come up here and speak on their behalf,” Edwards said. “This class was a really good class for me because I felt like it represented the gold standard as far as collaboration, understanding and justification in my mathematics classroom.”


In reflecting on the event, Vokes thanked the students and parents for making it happen while respecting the pandemic guidelines to honor the class of 2020.


“We were just trying to do something to provide closure for the kids… You make the best maps you can to communicate when and where you need to be, but for the most part people fall back on tradition,” Vokes said. “We really kept the heart of that there.”


The Grundy Register

601 G. Avenue - P.O. Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
Telephone: 1-319-824-6958
Fax: 1-800-340-0805

Mid-America Publishing

This newspaper is part of the Mid-America Publishing Family. Please visit for more information.