57 seniors collect diplomas in parking lot ceremony

Celebration continues with parade through downtown

060420.PEJ.PRBGraduation (1).JPG
Pine River-Backus Board Chair Chris Cunningham gave his daughter Jordan a long hug as he presented her with her diploma on May 29. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Pine River-Backus High School seniors made the best of what will likely be an unforgettable graduation ceremony Friday, May 29.

Though it started with many of the traditional features of a Pine River-Backus graduation ceremony - speeches, a musical performance of the national anthem by band director Ben Kinser, distribution of diplomas and moving tassels from right to left - there were almost as many differences as similarities.

There was no cap toss or Grad Blast event. The only spectators were family members who could share a vehicle with their graduate. Graduates, family and friends were not crowded in a warm gymnasium. Instead, each senior walked from their vehicle to collect their diploma on a stage in front of the high school entry. Every graduate walked away with a large gift basket. And then, of course, there was the parade through town after the ceremony.

In addition to the shared speech by valedictorians Emma Barchus and Hannah Nordlund and salutatorian Anna Felthous, high school Principal Chris Halverson congratulated the class of 2020, giving the graduates advice, reassuring them and encouraging them.

"It is your choice to continue your success and embrace the growth mindset that we have talked about and put to practice," Halverson said. "The current reality that you and I have faced in the past few months requires us to use the growth mindset. To revisit this concept, I use the example of trying new things and not being afraid of not being the best or a natural without much practice."


He told them to challenge themselves.

"I challenge you now to continue to be mindful and set your goals in a very intentional manner," Halverson said. "Be specific, make your goals measurable, make them attainable, make them reasonable in nature, and have them time bound. You can choose to learn or relearn something in a different way from your past. Struggle and overcoming challenges are signs of lifelong learning and growth.

"First, you are able to choose your attitude every day. Be positive. It is a choice and it is contagious and attractive to others in your surroundings. It will make an impact on your future, without a doubt. Make the best out of what you have for resources. You don’t need to have more. You may need to work smarter and not harder," he said. "These skills have been taught to you at Pine River-Backus High School. Furthermore, you will have to make choices in the area of time. Time is one thing that is free to all of us but it is priceless. Once lost, you cannot get it back, so choose wisely with what you do with it. Make sure to continue to dream big with your time and connect goals to your dreams."

In the end he offered encouraging words.

"I would like to say, I feel very proud about what you have accomplished and never forget all of the great memories you have created at Pine River-Backus. Wherever life takes you, I sincerely hope you work hard, treat people well and always be proud to be a PR-B graduate," Halverson said.

The class of 2020 was certified for graduation and then proceeded in their cars along the traditional Pine River Summerfest parade route with their decorated vehicles. Along the route spectators cheered them on, lit sparklers and sprayed them with squirt guns.

The class of 2020 also celebrated their former classmate, Vienna Peterson, who tragically died in 2015 at age 13. In her honor, the class had purple ribbons in her memory.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at


Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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