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For class of 2021, it's time to set forth

by DERRICK PERKINS
Editor | June 1, 2021 6:00 AM

For the Troy and Libby classes of 2021, graduation meant more than just taking the next step in life’s journey.

In a school year marked by cancellations, crowd-restrictions, delays and closures, graduation opened up a chance at dreams deferred.

“While we were denied so much, I would offer that there was something motivating about being held in place while the world goes forward,” said senior Gabriella Pallister, valedictorian of Troy High School’s class of 2021.

Family, friends and local dignitaries packed the small town’s high school football field on Saturday for a graduation ceremony under a sunny, blue sky. Though there were scant few masks or other outward signs of the coronavirus, the pandemic was never far out of mind for the class of 2021.

“I think back to this long and stressful school year and all of the things I would have liked to have done if there wasn’t a pandemic,” Pallister said, mourning the temporary end of close gatherings and cancellations of activities owing to the coronavirus, also known as “Queen Quarantine,” “Quentin Quarantino” and “Sherlock Stay-At-Homes,” among other monikers, she said.

“Rather than be thwarted by the [solitude] of my academic year I saw the chance to preserve through these hard times,” Pallister said, noting that she had used the free time to complete nearly a full year of college work.

In Libby on Sunday, 75 students walked across the stage. Officials recognized Maverick Owens for earning his associate’s degree prior to receiving his diploma at the high school’s graduation ceremony.

As in Troy, friends and family packed Ralph Tate Gymnasium to give the seniors a send-off, a marked departure from the social distancing of last year’s rite of passage. With six valedictorians — Elise Erickson, Olivia Gilliam-Smith, Colton Halvorson, Ruby Martin, Isaac O’Rourke and Sally Weber — a joint address was offered to the hundreds packed inside.

Overcoming adversity, cultivating inner strength, learning to persevere and maintaining a positive attitude featured prominently as themes.

“It’s what we do with the challenges we face,” said Gilliam-Smith. “The challenges did not make me weak, they made me strong. … I chose to fight.”

Halvorson urged his classmates to hone in on those things within their control and remain positive through life’s travails. He cited his time in Libby’s high school athletics programs for teaching him the importance of self-discipline.

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The class of 2021 at Libby Middle High School. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

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(Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

“Us Loggers are taught that we can always control our focus and our attitude,” he said. “Don’t waste all your time and energy on the things you can’t change.”

County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1), a graduate of Libby High School, reinforced that message during his keynote speech to the assembled seniors. For them, COVID-19 would remain a defining moment, he said, the way Sept. 11, 2001, the Civil Rights Movement and world wars had become the defining moments of previous generations.

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(Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

Rise above the negativity in the world, he said. Accept — and learn from — failure. Take risks.

“Don’t be afraid to change course,” Peck said. “Don’t be afraid to follow your passion.”

In Troy the previous day, Pallister issued a similar clarion call to her classmates.

“By going where we have never gone, not to hang out in comfort zone, in the safety of what’s known, in fear and isolation, distanced, but to seek out the unknown,” she said. “Now more than ever we need to seek beyond the boundaries that were forced upon us.”

Back in Libby, Peck made a simple request of this year’s graduates, regardless of where they ended up in life.

“Do me a favor,” he said. “Don’t forget where you come from. Don’t forget Libby, Montana.”

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Graduates of Troy High School toss their mortarboards into the air on May 29, 2021. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

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Senior Emma Anderson sings the national anthem at the beginning of the Troy High School commencement ceremony on May 29, 2021. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

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Troy's class of 2021 received diplomas under blue skies on the high school's football field. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)