MERRILLVILLE — The Merrillville High School class of 2021 was given one final homework assignment at the graduation ceremony Sunday.
Math teacher Heather Oestreich, who was chosen as the featured speaker by the graduating class, asked the graduates to reflect on their time at MHS and listen to a song by Carrie Underwood. She asked them to listen for one particular line about the mountains life can present.
"There’s always going to be a mountain and it’s always going to shape you, just like it does the landscape," she told the graduates.
During two ceremonies on Sunday, family and friends gathered in the school gym to watch the class of 2021 walk across the stage to receive their diplomas during the 95th annual graduation ceremony. Half of the class participated in a ceremony in the afternoon and the other half in the evening.
While holding back tears, Oestreich said she will miss this class and sent them off with a few pieces of advice. In future job interviews or meetings when people ask them where they see themselves in 10 years, Oestreich asked them to think of this moment, to think about achieving this goal that has been 13 years in the making.
For Principal Mike Krutz, the word that comes to mind when he thinks of the class of 2021 is "resiliency," he said in his speech. In the 16 graduations he's experienced at MHS, he said no class has been through as much as the one that sat before him Sunday.
"You guys were thrown the ultimate curveball in life," he said.
But they didn't flinch, and Sunday's ceremony was proof that they are ready for the next leap in life, he said. He told them that graduating from high school is just one great milestone of many to come.
For some of the students, the graduation ceremony was the first time they had been back to the school in 16 months. To them, Krutz said, "Welcome back, we missed you."
Valedictorian Salvador Contreras told his fellow graduates that being a member of the class of 2021 was no easy task. They had to learn new ways to learn, and they were the first graduating class to have an entire school year affected by the pandemic.
He drew on a lesson he learned in science class at MHS telling his classmates that they, like diamonds, grew when placed under pressure.
Class president Heavenly Bullard told her fellow graduates that what makes their class different from previous ones is they didn't take 'no' for an answer. Instead, she said, they found ways to make their senior year count, even if it had to look different than expected. For example, she said they adapted the traditional senior breakfast into a senior picnic and held a regional gala for juniors and seniors.
"With the unknowns, we still held on to the dreams and goals," said Salutatorian Jameelah Ali, in her speech.