Families, friends and staff filled the stands at Bob O’Neill Stadium to celebrate the class of 2023 at Fridley High School’s 65th Commencement ceremony held Thursday, June 1. The windy evening carried the chants and cheers of hundreds of joyous supporters in attendance for the 212 graduates who earned their diplomas this year.
The ceremony began with student emcees Ben Davis and Khaliifo Aden reminiscing about their time at FHS, from cultural touchstones like Fortnite and TikTok, to school events like freezing football games, pep fests and the culture show – which Davis and Aden also emceed together.
Savannah Yang delivered the opening student address, reflecting on the challenges her class faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resiliency it taught them.
“To succeed, make sure there is room for improvement,” Yang implored her fellow graduates. “Do not give up on yourself. We have come this far, so why stop now? We are evolving as time passes, and things will only improve from here.”
Alen Kahrimanovic described FHS as “a school filled with love, passion, inspiration, and inclusion” in a speech emphasizing how welcomed he felt at Fridley as a Bosnian immigrant.
“I owe everything to this school,” Kahrimanovic said. “It has molded me into the man I am today, and I appreciate it.”
Veronique Kolibe-Gnamikou and Serina Wood read their original poem “The Best Class,” inspired by and dedicated to the class of 2023. The first two stanzas read:
Hello class of 2023
We made it through
And now we get our degree
But we can’t forget how we got here
Everything we went through was our key
Our key to be here
Our key to our degree
Our key to help the world
Amayramy Ruiz Barrios gave an impassioned address about breaking barriers in pursuit of one’s dreams, urging her classmates to continue that pursuit in order to benefit themselves and future generations.
“As we head into our new chapter in life, we must remember there will be barriers along the way,” Ruiz Barrios stated. “But being able to overcome them depends on our commitment to knocking them down.”
FHS Principal Patty Hand extended her appreciation to families and staff for the crucial parts they played in graduates earning their diploma. She also recognized the academic achievements of honor students, International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme full diploma candidates and scholars, AVID participants, and associate degree recipients.
“Thank you seniors for your efforts, perseverance and hard work,” Hand said. “I also want to thank our families for all of their collaboration and support throughout their students’ educational journey.”
This year’s faculty address was delivered by Matt Kiefer, coordinator of the Get Ready program at FHS, who began his time at Fridley during the class of 2023’s freshman year.
“This job has afforded me so many great things over the past four years, but the greatest thing I have done is getting to know the students in front of me, the class of 2023,” Kiefer beamed. “I have watched you grow from awkward freshmen trying to find your place at Fridley High School, to confident seniors ready to take on the world.”
He offered graduates four final pieces of advice to take with them: to be present, invest in those around them, be kind, and remember they deserve to be happy.
“I honestly don’t know what this school is like without you in it. You all have been the constant in my life during my time here at Fridley High School,” Kiefer reflected. “But I can guarantee you one thing: next school year, as I walk the halls, I’ll still be smiling because I know you’ll be out in the world making it a better place.”
Before diplomas were awarded to graduates to conclude the ceremony, Superintendent Kim Hiel closed the evening’s speeches relating the impact of the class of 2023 on the district to the late Congressman John Lewis’ famous “good trouble” motto.
“There has been more voice from this graduating class towards impacting the work in our school district than ever before,” Dr. Hiel told the crowd. “They entered each conversation not looking for trouble, but instead driving the work to make ‘good trouble.’”
“Remember to always ensure your voice is valued and heard,” she advised graduates. “Make sure your voice is in the room where decisions are being made that will impact your life. Come in softly, come in knowledgeable and come in to make collaborative decisions. But most of all, you must come in the room – and when you do, make some good trouble.”