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Don Smith Learning Academy in Beaver Dam holds graduation
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Don Smith Learning Academy in Beaver Dam holds graduation

DSLA holds graduation

Beaver Dam High School auditorium was the setting for the Don Smith Learning Academy graduation ceremony Wednesday night. From left, Chancelor Kane Hunter Roth receives an air handshake from Principal Dan Lueck. Also pictured is graduate Gracie Barron.

Don Smith Learning Academy held its graduation ceremony Wednesday evening in the Beaver Dam High School auditorium. It was the first public event inside the school since the COVID-19 shutdown.

Principal Dan Lueck welcomed the graduates and their families, acknowledging that dealing with a pandemic is a strange way to end a school year.

“What our graduates, their parents, grandparents and our staff have went through in the last few months has been a new adventure for everyone,” he said.

Sixteen students graduated from DSLA this year. They are Graciela Barron, Tanner Beaudry, Mikayla Durkee, Jade Heiman, Tristan Janke, Kiara Lappen, Caleb Mark, David Munoz, McKenzie Roberts, Chancelor Kane Hunter Roth, Kweianaw Rufus, Jeri Sell, Owen Sindelar, Brooke St. Amour, Mishaya Uttech and Jackline Vazquez.

Lueck said the number of graduates is not as high as it’s been the past two years, but it beats the school’s average of 14 graduates from 2013-2017.

“Despite everything, we still have more up here than we used to and that is incredible given what they went through this year,” he said. “I’m proud of each and every one of you on this stage.”

He thanked the Beaver Dam School District for valuing education and providing an alternative learning program for students, thereby giving them a second chance at earning a diploma.

Lueck said the graduates’ perseverance was more important than ever this year because they weren’t in the classroom every day.

In an expression of gratitude, he said DSLA teachers reached out to students any way they could throughout the mandated school shutdown.

“Driving around the district to drop off and pick up schoolwork, working with kids over the internet, through phone calls, meeting socially distanced in outdoor spaces and even through screen doors. They pushed them right up until the very end…right up until 1:30 this morning…that’s when our last graduate finished,” he said.

DSLA staff members who are retiring were recognized for their contributions to the school. They are Virginia Grebel, Mary Kelroy-Skelton and Melissa McIntyre.

Kweianaw Rufus was chosen to speak at the ceremony on behalf of her class.

Admittedly honored and nervous, she said, “I’m very proud of my classmates and how successful they’ve become. Even though we went through ups and downs, some of us found it hard to transfer to the Don Smith Learning Academy but our teachers helped us a lot.”

Rufus said she wanted to thank the teachers for working with them and truly wanting to see them graduate.

Before graduates picked up their diplomas, Lueck said the most difficult part of the ceremony would be the non-contact rule because it’s normally a time where handshakes or hugs are given.

Congratulatory air handshakes and air hugs took place instead.

Follow Kelly Simon on Twitter @KSchmidSimon or contact her at 920-356-6757.

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