OHS class of 2020 turns tassels lakeside

Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Photo by Seth Boyes

Mother Nature was set on conferring honors herself Sunday afternoon during Okoboji High School's commencement ceremony. Strong winds prematurely turned tassels and occasionally flung mortar boards from graduates' heads as the Okoboji class of 2020 prepared for their graduation ceremony at Preservation Plaza near Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Photo by Seth Boyes

The spring semester was marked by an abrupt switch to optional, online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds kept the state's schools closed through the end of the regular school year to cut down on the potential spread of the virus. Many spring events were cancelled, but local districts held off on cancelling graduations, and Okoboji Schools chose to hold graduation lakeside on Preservation Plaza's performance stage to allow ample spacing for families and friends on the nearby green space given that current health recommendations call for a distance of at least 6 feet between individuals.

Okoboji High School Principal began the ceremony by facetiously saying the seniors who hadn't sat at their desks since mid-March had taken the tradition of senior skip day to an entirely new level.

"We've certainly never seen a school year like this one," Downing said in earnest. "The Class of 2020 has had to endure many things that classes before them have not. They lost spring sports and activities. They missed out on the final weeks of their high school experience. They weren't able to attend prom, senior awards night or the annual honor walk through the elementary school."

Okoboji High School alumnus Damon Dotson delivered the afternoon's commencement speech. The Des Moines-base musician also performed a few songs including his own work "Childhood" which ended with the lyric "This for sure ain't the end."
Photo by Seth Boyes

Downing said the class of 2020's experience highlighted how plans often have to be adapted in life, and he said he had confidence the year's obstacles would make each graduate stronger, more mature and better prepared for success.

Okoboji alumnus Damon Dotson Class of 1998 delivered the commencement address, which he said will undoubtably be one of the most memorable experiences in his life. The Des Moines-based musician has released four albums and opened for other musicians like Willie Nelson, B.B. King and The Beach Boys, but he said he would not have attained such success if not for his education at Okoboji Schools.

"Some of the greatest and most memorable, life-shaping experiences happened in those Okoboji hallways, up and down these streets and across and under this water," Dotson said gesturing to West Lake Okoboji. "I have so many fond memories of my time at Okoboji High School the highs and the lows of both music and sports."

He acknowledged his experience may have been vastly different than that of any graduate sitting in the first five rows that day, but he reminded them graduation is often just one of the first steps in life.

Graduates were invited to keep the rocks used to weigh down their diplomas in the heavy winds.
Photo by Seth Boyes

"In a year filled with so much turmoil, heartache and sickness across the entire world, your lives have not stopped," Dotson said. "Your plans have not stopped. Your hopes and dreams have not stopped I'm excited for you all to use this moment for the better for being more prepared for the outside world that awaits you."

To that end, each graduate was given a brass key blank no high points, no low points as a symbolic reminder.

"You hold the key to define your own success," Dotson said. "I invite you to carve out your own version of what you want your story to be. This key may not fit into every door or unlock every wish that you have, but from this moment on, this key and this life is yours to shape and mold however you like it."

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