Gratitude was the prevailing feeling for students and families at Friday's graduation ceremony for Father Tolton Catholic High School.
The in-person commencement was in question throughout the school year, but in the end 54 seniors walked the stage to receive their diplomas.
It has been a week of high school graduations in Columbia. Commencement ceremonies were held last weekend at Mizzou Arena for Douglass, Rock Bridge, Hickman and Battle high schools. On Thursday, eight seniors graduated from Columbia Independent School’s Upper School. On Friday, 34 adults graduated from the Goodwill Excel Center in Columbia.
The festivities at Tolton began with a Mass celebration at 6 p.m. followed by the graduation shortly after.
Seniors Noah Nichols and Paul Wilson were excited to get the opportunity that last year's class didn't have.
"It actually means a lot because I know a lot of the people last year would have dreamed of doing this," Nichols said. "We can’t forget to be grateful to actually do this in person."
Wilson expressed a similar sentiment. "I love going to school every day with my best friends, even the people that I don’t get along with."
Wilson said it's "awesome" to see his classmates and experience senior year "how it was supposed to be done."
Students were not the only ones excited to graduate in person. Parents and grandparents felt fortunate to be able to attend.
Kristin Hawley was thankful she was able to see her stepson Max Rodhouse walk the stage.
"It is really nice to be here in person and see this and have this memory," Hawley said.
First-year principal Daniel Everett addressed the crowd, thanking faculty and parents for the endless support in assisting students to get to graduation. The principal was particularly grateful for staff being so flexible with the preparation of the ceremony.
Two students spoke at the commencement: Seniors Dylan Seidt and Drew Freeman addressed their classmates and parents with passionate speeches.
Seidt reflected on his classmates' impact at Tolton. "Today, I am honored to stand alongside a class that has changed our school by moving the hearts of every single administrator, coach, teacher and student," he said.
"This was a challenging year for all of us, and I want to take a second to thank Dr. Everett," Freeman said. "Coming into this situation was a daunting task, but he hit the ground running and handled it extremely well... . We finally found a perfect fit."