Simplified: More than 1,600 Sioux Falls students walked the graduation stage on Sunday. Here's a look at some of the messages that were shared by student commencement addresses.

Why it matters

  • Graduating is a big deal. The Sioux Falls School District typically sees about 85% of students graduate high school – which is on par with national trends.
  • Hundreds of the graduates received academic accolades, with more than 500 Regents Scholars and 285 members of the National Honor Society, among other recognitions.
  • The Class of 2023 is unique because their freshman year of high school ended abruptly with the coronavirus pandemic. Because of that, some of the messages focused on overcoming adversity.
"We’re prepared to move on, and we’re ready," Lincoln High School graduate Aryan Patel said. "Whatever it is, we're ready because of the circumstances we had in the past."

'I just know we'll do great things'

Zouhera Mahamed was six years old when she moved from a refugee camp in Cameroon to Sioux Falls.

  • Now, after graduating from Jefferson High School this weekend, she's preparing to study international affairs at the University of Nebraska Omaha in the hopes that she'll someday work to help refugees like her.

Mahamed's inspiration for her commencement speech on Sunday was her 23-year-old brother and his advice to her when she was considering taking a gap year but concerned about "falling behind."

"He gave me a speech that, 'Any choice you make is your choice,'" Mahamed said. "And I was like, wow, this is really good. So then I started writing."

Her speech shared lyrics from the song "Love Yourz" by rapper J. Cole and focused specifically on the line that there's "no such thing as a life that's better than yours."

"He was saying, 'I'm a celebrity, and I've got all these big things,'" she said. "But without love and contentment, there is no happiness."

Mahamed wants her classmates – and the to broader community – to know that whatever choices the Class of 2023 make in the coming years, they're going to be OK.

"I just know we'll do great things," she said. "That's it."

'We've already done so much'

Aryan Patel didn't tell his mom he would be speaking at his Lincoln High School graduation ceremony on Sunday. His dad was in on it, but he wanted her to be surprised. And, was she ever.

"I was trying to look through the audience," Patel said. "Her head was down. I assumed she was crying. She said, 'good speech,' all the lovey dovey stuff."

Patel – whose long-term plans include college and then medical school – noted that at Lincoln, the Class of 2023 had a uniquely rough start.

  • As freshmen, one of their classmates, Barry Grieve, died in a rollover car accident. A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and their freshman year came to an abrupt end.
"Even though all of us have gone through these circumstances," Patel said, "I told them to keep their head up. We've already done so much, and to keep it up."