McMinn County High School’s Class of 2021 withstood pandemic precautions to reach the pinnacle over the weekend.

McMinn’s graduating seniors were able to celebrate with their friends and family during the school’s 118th commencement on Saturday at Cherokee Stadium. They are perhaps one of the school’s most unique graduating classes after spending their entire senior year dealing with the challenge of COVID-19.

Senior Class Chaplain Grace McDonald, one of McMinn County High School’s eight valedictorians, began the ceremony with a moment of reflection.

“Dear Lord, I thank You so much for this day and for all of the graduates sitting in front of me,” she said in prayer. “We’re so grateful that through the inconsistency and craziness of the past year, You’ve remained constant.”

Assistant Principal Marla Cobb shared some words of encouragement with the senior class.

“As I look into your faces, I know the stories of triumphs over challenges, your victories over your defeats, your happiness over your sadness, your strength over your weakness and the greatness that rests within and in front of each one of you,” she said. “Here we are at your graduation — an accomplishment that no one can take away from you. … I want you to remember this time, especially when life picks up and challenges feel like they’re going to knock you off your feet.”

Assistant Principal Ashton Innis introduced the group of valedictorians, who, along with McDonald, included Marina Ajinov, Emma Brown, Isabella Coleman, Anna Cunningham, Gabriel Kovach, Makayla Millsaps and Diana White. Each valedictorian achieved a 4.35 grade point average.

“These eight valedictorians have earned this title by choosing the maximum rigor available at McMinn County High School and maintaining all As,” said Innis.

Principal Joe Young presented the senior class for graduation.

“As you reflect on your time here at McMinn County, I hope that you remember all the experiences that you had — the good and the bad, the laughter and the tears, the wins and the losses, the love found and then lost, and some of you found love again,” he said. “Remember remote learning, masks, blue dots, hats and hoodies, temp checks; remember hand sanitizer. It’s important to remember the good and the bad for it’s the culmination of all your experiences that help to define who you are.”

Director of Schools Lee Parkison accepted the senior class for graduation.

“I am so glad that you are here live and in person and we are not virtual,” he said. “These seniors have fought through a senior year that none of us could have imagined a year ago. The Class of 2021 will be remembered as unique and one of a kind. They have endured one of the toughest times in our nation’s history. Thank you seniors for your perseverance, your determination, your stamina to overcome the challenges put before you the last 13 years, and especially your senior year.”

Young read aloud the names of each graduate as they walked across the stage to receive their diploma from Parkison. Following the presentation of diplomas, the senior class officers were joined by the Cherokee Singers to lead the crowd in the school alma mater. The graduates then turned their tassels and threw their mortarboards skyward in celebration as their friends and families joined them on the field.

Email: andy.brusseau@

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