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TIM LUTZ COLUMN: Challenges we've faced and how we rose to meet them

As the 2022 class prepares to graduate at the end of this year, I thought it would be fitting to reflect on the similarities between two difficult time periods a century apart.

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A couple of weeks ago, Jim Aylesworth dropped by my office to give me a 100-year-old Bemidji High School yearbook.

This piece of history came to him from someone else, and he thought I should have it since the superintendent in 1922 also had a very challenging year, which is something that would resonate with me.

I enjoyed reading the interesting historical references included on the pages. I also enjoyed seeing a picture of the high school principal that year, Mr. J.W. Smith, who eventually became the superintendent for many years and after whom one of our elementary schools is named.

However, it was the challenging history of that year that I found most compelling to learn. In the middle of the 1921-1922 school year, the Bemidji High School burned down. Eventually, a “new school” was built which lasted nearly 80 years until our current new school was built.

As the 2022 class prepares to graduate at the end of this year, I thought it would be fitting to reflect on the similarities between two difficult time periods a century apart.

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Perhaps the best place to start is in the opening comments of the 1922 yearbook written by Superintendent West about the challenges of that year:

The high school building was destroyed by fire in the middle of the school year. The visible and material evidence of high school life and spirit temporarily ceased to manifest itself (20th-century translation: The heart and center of the community had disappeared!) The physical part of the old high school is too remote to stand as a landmark for the class of 1922. 

The new high school building, now under construction, has played no part in the development of this class. Class spirit, class tradition, and class sentiment have had no focal point around which to crystalize.

Those words did resonate with me. In 1922, students lost the physical site of their high school. During the pandemic, many of our students experienced a similar loss when their classes moved to distance or hybrid learning.

School — and learning — were mostly happening outside of the school building. As the superintendent continued to write:

The class of 1922, daunting nothing, has carried on most nobly.  Handicapped, as it has been, without a common meeting place for social or intellectual exchanges, it has excelled in both. 

Indeed, it seems to me that the adverse circumstances under which its members struggled, spurred them on to greater endeavors.

Like the class of 1922 persevered, so has the class of 2022 as well as all of the district’s students over the past two years.

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Our students and employees have risen to meet the challenges of the past two years, and we should all be proud of the growth we have experienced and the ways we have come together to make the most of difficult times.

Superintendent West concluded:

The class of 1922 presents this annual as one of its many achievements … this book will serve as the greatest material tie among the members of this class and between them and their senior year in high school. 

It will preserve the memories of school life that would otherwise be forgotten. The class of 1922 and the yearbook committee are to be congratulated on faithfully promoting this school enterprise.

As the class of 1922 persevered and came together over a challenge, I hope the class of 2022 will look back on the past year or two and recognize that they grew more than they ever expected due to the hurdles thrown at them during the pandemic. Experiencing challenging times is often how we learn and grow in character.

Kudos to the class of 2022 for staying the course during the pandemic which started when they were only sophomores. Congratulations and well done!

Perhaps a superintendent in the year 2122 will find a 100-year-old copy of the 2022 yearbook and learn about the challenges we have faced and how we rose to meet them.

Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at tim_lutz@isd31.net .

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Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz
Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz. (Pioneer file photo)
(Pioneer file photo)

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