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High school graduates from Yukon, Oklahoma go back to their roots

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You know, I got a chance to attend a high-school graduation yesterday. They have this cool tradition. Instead of one graduation speaker, every graduate is invited to say a few words, and many reflected on how far they'd come. In Yukon, Okla., graduates reflect by returning to their old elementary school. StateImpact Oklahoma's Robby Korth has this report.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Over intercom) Ranchwood seniors, when you hear the music, you may start your walk.

ROBBY KORTH, BYLINE: Graduating senior Ivan Ramirez leads his classmates in a walk through their alma mater, Ranchwood Elementary School.

IVAN RAMIREZ: I'm very excited to be the leader because I've never been a leader before.

KORTH: He was also very excited when he saw my microphone.

RAMIREZ: I’m going to be on the - OK. I just want to say a huge shoutout to my mom.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDWARD ELGAR'S "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE")

KORTH: Ramirez and his classmates at Yukon High School were sophomores when schools shut down in March 2020. The district's tradition of bringing seniors back to their elementary school was also put on hold. This year, it's finally back.

RAMIREZ: When I saw the PE gym, I was just like, wow. I was like - that was my favorite place to go.

KORTH: Another place he frequented back in the day, Principal Kristin Lipe’s office.

KRISTIN LIPE: And that little Ivan - oh, my gosh - a stinker, a stinker.

KORTH: A stinker who brings back memories of a time before masks or vaccines. And seeing kids like him at this brief ceremony featuring orange juice and doughnuts means everything to Lipe, especially in the wake of the pandemic, which upended these graduates' high-school years.

LIPE: This is the reason I come and do my job every day, is to see these kids rise above a lot of different circumstances that they face and just to see them become young adults. And I can't wait to see where their journey takes them to the next stage.

KORTH: Both Lipe and Ramirez say going back and seeing some familiar faces makes life feel a little better, a little more normal. Less normal is what happened when Lipe, who spent years disciplining Ramirez, sees him for the first time.

RAMIREZ: She actually came up to me and hugged me. She recognized me. And I was like, of course she would. I was like, yeah. I knew she would recognize me. This time she was actually - she actually had a smile on her face.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOISEMAKER)

KORTH: And how could she not?

For NPR News, I'm Robby Korth in Yukon, Okla.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDWARD ELGAR'S "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.