Derby High School’s class of 2021 capped four years of achievement at graduation on Sunday – the first time the ceremony has been held at Koch Arena since 2019.
Last year’s May ceremony was canceled due to the pandemic and later held in August at Panther Stadium. This year’s graduation was held on Mother’s Day and marked the 110th anniversary of Derby’s first graduating class in 1911.
While this year’s graduates and staff were masked, and capacity was limited, Sunday’s event marked both a return to normal and an enormous milestone for Derby seniors.
“2020 may have taken a lot from us, whether it was part of our school year or a loved one,” said senior and graduation speaker Jackson Davis. “But we can do this. I see a group of people that can handle the hardships ahead of them.”
The ceremony kicked off with an introduction from DHS Principal Tim Hamblin, who thanked family members, staffers, school board members, teachers and administration for their contributions to the success of this year’s seniors.
“I’d like to thank the DHS office staff and every single teacher, pre-K through 12th grade, that has made graduation a reality for these folks,” Hamblin said.
Hamblin then introduced student speakers Davis and EllieAna Hale, who offered the ceremonial farewell speeches.
Hale completed the biomedical pathway at DHS, Hamblin said. She was also a member of the Panther’s Tale newspaper and yearbook staff, and participated in debate, National Honor Society, Panther Crew and several internships.
In her speech, Hale focused on the concept of embracing change and taking direction over one’s life.
“When I was young, I used to cry to my mom about growing up,” Hale said. “Looking back, I realized I feared growing up because I simply feared change. But after this ceremony, everything and everyone will change whether we are ready or not.”
Hale plans to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City to pursue a double major in political science and mass communication. She hopes to attend law school with the ultimate goal of practicing constitutional or civil rights law.
“Tomorrow starts a new chapter. Tomorrow you start becoming the person you were destined to be,” she said.
Davis, also a member of the Panther’s Tale newspaper staff, had a successful high school career in debate, making it to nationals all four years. He also earned the highest score possible on the AP Language exam and has a heavy interest in politics.
In his speech, Davis focused on defining a Panther and embracing the challenges that life offers.
“A Panther is someone who knows the true difference between right and wrong, someone who isn’t afraid to get hands-on with their problems and churn out solutions, someone who steps up to the plate and never backs down from a challenge,” he said. “When I look at the group in front of me, I see a group of people who are destined to lead tomorrow. I see a group of people who are bound to do great, amazing things. I see Panthers.”
Davis plans to attend Wichita State University and is currently leaning toward studying education.
Both Davis and Hale thanked teachers, family members, friends, administration and mentors who guided them to graduation.
“I’ve accomplished great things, but I would never have done it if it weren’t for the the tools given to me by those around me,” Davis said.
Following speeches from Hale and Davis, Hamblin recognized members of the class of 2021 for their academic accomplishments and awards, such as the black, green, white, silver and gold honor cords, which recognize students for their overall grade-point average. Each honoree was asked to stand to be recognized.
Hamblin recognized other academic achievements like the medallion of knowledge, which is given to the top 5% of each graduating class. Samuel Harrison, Nicole Henderson, Emma Stubby, Sean Wentling and David Zimmerman were recognized for earning the title of Governor’s Scholar, which is given to the top 1% of graduates in the whole state.
Stubby was also recognized by name for carrying on the “long running tradition” of being a national merit finalist. She also finished with the highest overall GPA in her class, 4.725.
“Class of 2021, you absolutely left your mark on Derby High School,” Hamblin said. “Derby High School is better after you’ve walked its halls.”
Hamblin also gave nods to students in athletics, music, and theatrics for their “unbelievably innovative performances during the pandemic.”
After the reading of names, Hamblin gave one last recognition to academy students, who earned their associate’s degrees while in high school.
“In today’s world, many people are quick to imply that youth are not motivated or driven,” he said. “I would say [earning an associate’s] requires quite a bit of motivation.”
Hamblin, a 1984 graduate, closed with advice for the future before seniors turned the tassel.
“It’s been said that the meaning of the life is to find your gift and the purpose is to give it away,” he said. “You cannot control the wind, but you have complete control over how you set your sails to capture that wind and drive your course.”