Mitchell High School seniors complete journey with graduation

Friends, family fill Corn Palace to bid farewell to Class of 2022

Iris Anderson smiles after receiving her diploma during the Mitchell High School Class of 2022 Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 22, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — The Mitchell High School Class of 2022 took their last steps as seniors Sunday afternoon as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas and began the next phase of their lives at the graduation ceremony at the Corn Palace.

A total of 208 graduates sat front and center, surrounded by friends, family and members of the Mitchell public, as classmates Joseph Gebel and Elisabeth Hart spoke on their collective experiences with addresses appropriately titled “Where We’ve Been” by Gebel and “Where We’re Going” by Hart.

Both speakers were introduced by Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District, with Gebel presenting a look back at the Class of 2022.

“We’ve been through a lot as a class, but we did it,” Gebel told the assembled crowd. “It’s crazy to think of where we came from and the annoying little brats we used to be. Overall it’s been a very, very long trip with lots of ups and downs, but we’re here now.”

Gebel took a moment to thank the parents of the graduating class, a group he said is often overlooked in the midst of the celebration of graduates and education. But as part of his reflection, he noted that there was nobody better to tell them who they used to be as children and students.


It’s important to remember who they each were in their younger days, because graduation marks a time of change.

“There is one group frightfully neglected, and that is our parents. After all, who knows better where we came from and who we used to be?” Gebel asked. “The point of this is we are all very different people from who we thought we’d be in fifth grade.”

He reflected on some of his classmates’ humorous predictions about their future selves during their elementary school days. As amusing as those ideas were in retrospect, they highlight the changes the class has gone through to get to graduation day.

“I’m pointing this out to challenge you. We have the same opportunities as tens of thousands that have come before us. Make yours count. Take every twist, every turn in this massive long, winding road and use it,” Gebel said. “After this point, it’s all you.”

Regardless of what each class member thought they would be like when they reached graduation, Gebel said they should each drive to be role models that their younger selves could admire and emulate.

“This road, as twisting and winding as it has been, has fostered state champions, overachievers and 208 graduates who have somehow made it against all odds,” Gebel said. “Become someone that your fifth grade self could look up to, even if it is the exact person they planned on becoming.”

Hart picked up where Gebel left off with a glance into the future and what lies ahead for the latest graduating class from Mitchell High School.

Riley Flowers receives his diploma during the Mitchell High School Class of 2022 Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 22, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

“We’re here to celebrate the ending of everything we’ve overcome to get here, to celebrate the accomplishments of not only each individual, but also the accomplishments of our class as a whole,” Hart said.


Twelve years of ups and downs have brought them all to this moment, which is also the beginning of new horizons for each member of the class.

“Some of us will be continuing our education at a two- or four-year program, some of us are entering the workforce or starting internships. But no matter what next year looks like for you, we all have one thing in common: goals,” Hart said.

Hart recalled once sharing her dream of becoming a lawyer with an acquaintance who gently told her to not set her goals so high, lest she risk disappointment. As someone who had received strong positive encouragement from both family and teachers, the remark stung her. For a time, she began to doubt her own dreams.

“I began to seriously doubt that I was capable. I wondered if it was even worth it,” Hart said.

But it was a teacher who later introduced her to a phrase that would re-energize her: “There will be plenty of people that will tell you why you can’t, why you won’t and why you shouldn’t. That’s why you must treasure those rare individuals who tell you why you can, why you will and why we must.”

Hart took that message to heart.

“I was not going to let judgments about me determine my choices or get in the way of my dreams. Each one of us has encountered someone who told us that we can’t, but I hope that each one of us has also been blessed with at least one who reminded us why we can,” Hart said.

One only has to look at the early failures of people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Walt Disney to know that failing does not make one a failure, she said. She hoped that as her classmates walked out of the Corn Palace that afternoon into the next era of their lives, they would be prepared to overcome failure on their way to success.


Brandon Sparks smiles after receiving his diploma during the Mitchell High School Class of 2022 Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 22, 2022 at the Corn Palace.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

“To fail does not make you a failure, unless you give up on your dreams because someone told you to do so. So my encouragement to you is this: Follow your dreams and fail, and continue to follow them no matter what others may say. We have proven over the past four years that adversity will not hold us back,” Hart said. “Reality can destroy the dream, but why shouldn’t the dream destroy reality? I cannot wait to meet the reality that awaits us in our dreams.”

Kara Magee delivered the invocation, prelude music was provided by the Tri-Tones Jazz Combo, and the Varsity Chorale performed “Watch Me Soar” during the ceremony. The presentation of the Class of 2022 was delivered by Joe Childs, principal of Mitchell High School, and the presentation of diplomas was delivered by members of the Mitchell Board of Education and Craig Mock and Shane Thill, assistant principals.

The trumpet recessional “Trumpet Voluntary” was performed by Cameron Gauger.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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