Sun shines on outdoor graduation

Historic ceremony grads waited ‘a long time for’ finally held Sunday

CEDAR GROVE-BELGIUM High School’s graduation ceremony looked a little different this year, held outside with graduates and families spaced out due to the coronavirus. Handshakes during the distribution of diplomas were often skipped or traded for elbow bumps, such as grad the one Sydney Albrecht and School Board member Laura Schieffer shared (middle photo). Aerosol string, however, made its return, after being forbidden last year in the gym, which valedictorian Anna Claerbaut (bottom photo) took advantage of celebrated as the ceremony ended. Photos by Sam Arendt and Mitch Maersch
Ozaukee Press Staff

While graduation is a milestone in many people’s lives, Sunday’s ceremony at Cedar Grove-Belgium High School may be remembered for more than academic achievement thanks to the coronavirus.

The ceremony, held outdoors for the first time in at least a quarter century and without a rehearsal for perhaps the first time ever, was pushed back a month to July since schools were closed through June 30. It was the latest the school ever held commencement.

Tickets were limited. Families were spaced out on bleachers while others who couldn’t attend stood behind the chain-link fence to watch. Graduates sat spread out on the football and soccer field.

“We’re following guidelines to keep each other safe,” Principal Josh Ketterhagen said.

While the graduates lost a “normal graduation,” Ketterhagen said, “this is pretty cool” and it’s a moment they’ve been waiting “a long time for.”

A few graduates in the military had already left to serve their country and a few others didn’t feel comfortable attending due to the pandemic. Ketterhagen said military members not in attendance were presented with their diplomas beforehand.

The teachers who sat spaced out next to the stage hadn’t seen their students in a school setting since mid-March.

Valedictorian Anna Claerbaut made some history of her own, becoming the first Chinese-born graduate in Cedar Grove-Belgium High School history.

She was adopted by Dave and Mary Claerbaut, both teachers in the district, when she was 2.

“If it were not for a decision made almost 18 years ago, I would not be here with you today. Instead, I would be working in a factory in China,” Anna said during the valedictorian address.

 “I would never have received an education or a means to pursue my dreams. When I became old enough to truly understand what that really meant, I realized I had been given an opportunity in life that would not have been afforded to me in China.”

As a result, she said, she decided to do her best with the opportunities she was given.

Now, Anna said, she and her fellow graduates are presented with new opportunities.

“Some would view the world around us as scary. After all, we are in the middle of a pandemic that has rocked our world. Racial tensions have continued to cause strife. We face climate change and the destruction of the environment, and we are politically divided to a point that seems almost impossible to overcome. This all seems overwhelming and scary,” she said.

However, Anna said, “when has there ever been more of an opportunity to make change and make a better world?”

She began making her mark by leaving a personal note for each graduate on his or her chair, something from which last year’s valedictorian Bryce Ketterhagen received a positive response. Anna’s notes included fortune cookies, which she said symbolize wisdom.

Two class gifts were announced by Class President Allison Wieberdink, Vice President Joe Wilsnack, Secretary Anna Claerbaut and Treasurer Haven Lanser. The class gave a media backdrop used for signings of college letters of commitment and announcements of new staff, and $2,000 toward an audio system in the gym.

Graduates entering the military were honored. Tiernan Bretz, Kaitlyn Henderson, Ashanti Olofintila and Michaela Wollner are entering the Army. Maddie Larson and James Mejchar are entering the Air Force, and Matt Voskuil is joining the Navy Reserve.

New Supt. Chad Brakke, who succeeded interim Supt. Claire Martin, was asked to speak despite not serving during the graduates’ time at the school.

Brakke said he at first thought it would be awkward but then he saw the work done to  hold the ceremony, including Building and Grounds Director Ben Lukens and his staff washing benches in 90-degree heat and setting up two venues in case of rain.

“It’s an honor,” he said of addressing the crowd. 

“We’re all going to remember this year, and I guarantee the communities of Belgium and Cedar Grove are going to remember you,” he said.

After the ceremony, families and graduates shared their traditional hugs and impromptu photo sessions next to the bleachers.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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