Troy High School Class of 2021 seniors sit in front of family and friends at DTE Energy Music Theatre during the Troy School District’s graduation ceremony June 6.

Troy High School Class of 2021 seniors sit in front of family and friends at DTE Energy Music Theatre during the Troy School District’s graduation ceremony June 6.

Photo provided by Troy School District


Graduating seniors, staff reflect on pandemic school year

By: Jonathan Shead | Troy Times | Published June 25, 2021

 As part of a storied tradition, Troy School District seniors throw their graduation caps into the air outside DTE Energy Music Theatre to celebrate the end of high school.

As part of a storied tradition, Troy School District seniors throw their graduation caps into the air outside DTE Energy Music Theatre to celebrate the end of high school.

Photo provided by Troy School District

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TROY — For Troy High School graduation speaker Kenneth Gu and the Class of 2021, receiving their high school diplomas at DTE Energy Music Theatre June 6 during one of four graduation ceremonies for the Troy School District was a relief in itself.

The moment stood out more than normal, however, because of the challenges they overcame.

“It was definitely a challenge throughout the year, (and) not something that we would have expected going into this,” Troy Athens graduate Justin Esdale said. It was “powerful,” he said, that the district was able to provide an in-person graduation and return one facet of normalcy to an otherwise uncertain school year.

After 15 months of bouncing between virtual learning and in-person instruction, Troy School District Superintendent Rich Machesky said the senior class “handled it extremely well.” It was important for him to provide an in-person graduation for the seniors.

“I couldn’t have been happier that we ended the year the way we did. To me, that was the most important component, was our ability to have a normal, face-to-face graduation ceremony,” he said. “We actually had the ability to have more people participate than we would have in a normal school year.”

Graduates could invite as many family members as they wanted.

While it seemed as though the only constant in education during the pandemic was uncertainty, Gu still felt there were positive takeaways from the pandemic.

“Going to school virtually was definitely one of the challenges. Missing seeing friends, classmates and teachers in person, I think, was a big impact of this year that took away from that normal high school experience,” he said. “It was a little bit of a bummer, but I think maybe the silver lining in that was finding these new ways to connect maybe made it easier, in the sense that perhaps when we go to school next year we’re already pretty familiar with these tools to connect with one another.”

Not having to drive to school every morning was another benefit, Gu said. Esdale enjoyed longer passing periods, from five minutes to 15 minutes, which gave students time to talk to friends or go outside to Athens’ common areas.

Students didn’t just learn new technological skills and curriculum this past school year, Esdale added. Students learned to be resilient and overcome adversity.

“One of the biggest lessons for me was learning to overcome adversity. It’s something that we always see on a smaller scale. There’s always going to be obstacles in life that you’re forced to overcome, but rarely are we presented with an opportunity to overcome an obstacle that’s so prevalent and undermines your everyday choices for this long of a period of time,” Esdale said. “Learning to overcome that obstacle was definitely a challenge, but having that skill moving forward is definitely something that will be useful for our whole generation.”

Flexibility played a large part in the past year for district staff and students, Machesky said. “Our focus all year was on being flexible, being patient, and I think they demonstrated that throughout the course of the year. Certainly, resiliency comes to mind, with respect to how well they were able to address the various challenges thrown their way.”

New traditions have likely been made along the way too, Machesky added. Car parades, as one example, will continue to stick around.

As the Class of 2021 seniors come out on the other side of high school and a global pandemic, among other nationwide challenges, Gu feels his peers should take time to reflect on everything that’s occurred.

“This past year and a half has certainly been challenging both on a social level and a personal level. I think, that through his past year and a half, we’ve certainly gone through a lot, whether it be challenges with COVID-19 or personal challenges within our own families or perhaps broader societal reckonings with race, ethnicity and other factors,” he said. “I think throughout that all, it’s important to reflect on our own personal standing and think about how we can really do better for ourselves and also society.”

In any normal year, graduating high school is an accomplishment to be celebrated, and Esdale doesn’t want his peers to forget that after the past year they’ve had. “That’s something you should be proud of and remember as you go forward.”

Gu plans to attend Harvard University in the fall to study social sciences. Esdale will attend the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

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