I wrote this speech for the commencement celebrating the Northfield High School Class of 2020. It was written and recorded for the virtual graduation ceremony prior to the painful events of this week. Our hope is for healing ahead and amends that will finally move our society towards true equity, peace, and harmony. — Matt Hillmann

Greetings, Northfield High School Class of 2020. Congratulations on your graduation. As a school district and community, we are proud of your accomplishments. While we cannot congregate, we can still celebrate. Nothing can diminish this significant achievement.

We have to face the fact that this celebration is different. No one wished for the circumstances that disrupted the final quarter of your senior year. I am sorry for how it has affected all of you. To say it has been challenging is an understatement. And, yet, we move forward — one step at a time.

One of my favorite things is to check-in with our graduates about six months after commencement. I always ask these young alumni if they were well-prepared for their post-high school experiences. They often stare at me with a perplexed look on their face before saying something like “of course I was prepared.”

You see, the disruption of this last academic quarter cannot erase the first 12 and three-quarters of your Northfield Public Schools experience. The high academic expectations. Friendships. The activities. The athletics. The arts. I urge you to remember those experiences as much, if not more, than these past ten weeks. Those 12 and three-quarters are what prepared you for what’s next.

And what is next for you is critical. In these historic times, we need you to pursue your dreams with reckless abandon. You can bring hope to others. Author Mo Willems recently stated that “Science is going to get us out of this. But art will get us through this.” That metaphor highlights what your teachers have been telling you all along: there are many pathways to success after high school. Who knows where those pathways will lead. You all have lives of significance ahead of you.

While embarking on your pathway, remember that opportunity often looks like hard work. Make the best of challenging situations by learning to roll with the inevitable ups-and-downs of life. Be trustworthy. Be honest. Be a great friend. Help others in need without expecting anything in return. These are the things that bring true happiness. And, in the end, that is my wish for each and every one of you: that you will find happiness in life.

The Class of 2020 will hold a unique place in our hearts. Please, take what you have learned here and go out into our world and make it a better place for everyone. Again, Congratulations!