Celebrating five superb Sailor seniors

The Mapleton High School Class of 2023, from left, Emily Neece, Caleb Lewis, Mason Flansberg, Jeff Bernhardt and Conner Berg. Photo courtesy Jamie Foster

Upriver community sends off MHS Class of ‘23

June 9, 2023 — Folks from Brickerville, Deadwood, Mapleton, Swisshome, Tide, Tiernan and all points in between converged on the Mapleton High gymnasium on June 2 to celebrate the graduation of the Mapleton High School Class of 2023.

One of the smaller classes in recent memory, with just five graduates receiving their diplomas. The limited number of graduates did not dampen the festive mood in the gym.

After the Pledge of Allegiance, Salutatorian Jeff Bernhardt took the podium to talk about the thirteen years he spent in Mapleton schools, how they made him the graduate that he is today and the relationships he developed with some of his fellow graduates.

Bernhardt took the crowd on a journey through his years at upriver schools. 

First, he discussed the friendship that he and fellow graduate, Mason Flansberg, have shared since kindergarten, one that was not always amicable but first through the bonds built from sports, strengthened through the years.

“We used to fight a lot and both of us got sent to the office more times than I can count,” recalled Bernhardt. “We eventually joined football in sixth grade and turned our aggression into something useful. Since then we haven’t been sent to the office once… at least not for fighting each other.”

Next he talked about his friend Caleb Lewis, also a member of the MHS Class of ‘23, and his appreciation for Lewis’ ability to talk about the things happening outside of the friendly confines of Mapleton schools. 

“We became friends almost instantly through politics,” remembered Bernhardt. “We had many conversations about the world and what we thought of it and at the time, it seemed like we were the only ones who were having conversations about what was going on outside of school.”

Bernhardt also listed some of this favorite and most influential teachers and coaches, those were Mr. Blake, Mr. Burruss, Mr./Coach Green and Coaches Ford and Krieger.

Bernhardt signed off with a heartfelt thank you to his family.

“I want to thank my mom who has taken care of me since my dad passed,” said Bernhardt. “I also want to thank my dad. Even if he isn’t here to see me, I would have never made it this far without him.”

After Bernhardt it was Lou Burruss’ turn to speak as he had been chosen to be the ceremony’s honorary speaker by the graduates themselves. 

Burruss had a feeling he knew why he had been chosen… or maybe it was wishful thinking.

“I was told by some people important to me that I cannot tell five minutes of ‘dad jokes’ so I apologize,” said Burruss immediately after asking the crowd what they call a cow with no legs and responding with “ground beef”.

Lucky for those in attendance Burruss listened to these unmentioned ‘important people’ and moved on to his actual speech quickly. He had complimentary things to say about each of the five seniors.

First, Conner Berg. Burruss told of Berg in his Ultimate Frisbee class. He said from the beginning Berg wanted out the class and would often ask to transfer out. Burruss kept telling him to just give it another week and though he knew Berg didn’t want to be in the class, he was surprised by what he saw.

“I'd watch him and he'd be out there playing harder than every single person,” recalled Burruss. “Finally, one day, I was like, I'm confused because you say you hate this class, and you're out there destroying everybody. What is going on? He's like, “I don’t like it but I can't help myself. I have to play as hard as I can.’ I think that's just an awesome trait for a person to have — no matter what, whether it's something they like or they don’t like, Conner is going to go out there and do the best he can no matter what.”

Next Burruss spoke about Bernhardt and how much he appreciated the graduates’s curiosity for all things.

“That curiosity and willingness to engage in ideas and discuss and think about things and question your own beliefs, that's awesome,” explained Burruss when describing Bernhardt. “It is not just in politics, but also in science and as an engineering student who's willing to explore and mess with different ideas, and try out different ideas. He’s just a really great kid.”

Mason Flansberg was the next senior on Burruss’ list. He described how Flansberg revealed an impressive talent to the Mapleton community at the Sforza Fair the week prior when he played his bass guitar at the event. That performance showed a side of Flansberg some didn’t know was there.

“He was still quiet but so confident and comfortable up there… and so skillful,” recalled Burruss. “I saw in that moment, those traits of being confident and skillful, those were there all along but just hiding behind his quiet exterior“

Burruss spoke about Caleb Lewis next and his strength during a difficult period for everyone.

“I think what I am most impressed with is that when you [Lewis] were confronted with COVID, in this building, you chose school,” Burruss explained. That was a really brave choice. It's not a choice that a lot of young people were able to make. And that bravery is really impressive.”

The final senior Burruss discussed, and the only graduating female, was Emily Neece. He talked about her sense of humor, which he says was on display in Ultimate Frisbee class recently.

“Emily is marked up on Mason and trying to get open,” explained Burruss. “So she just shoved him over. There’s no shoving allowed in Frisbee. It was definitely cheating but it was just a perfect moment and we all had a good laugh about it. If you have the privilege of being around Emily, expect something funny to happen.”

The next speaker at the ceremony was Valedictorian Flansberg who shared each graduate’s post high school plans; Berg will attend Job Corp to learn heavy machine operating, Neece is heading to Lane Community College (LCC) with plans to become a Marine Biologist, Lewis will stay local and continue to work at the Deadwood Tavern with plans to go into law enforcement once he is 21-years old and Bernhardt and Flansberg both also plan to attend LCC and study to become Engineering Technicians.

Next Superintendent Sue Wilson spoke. She, like Burruss, had compliments for each of the five graduates.

First Neece.

“When you get words from Emily they are always meaningful,” said Wilson. “Her patience and ability to work with younger students… when she’s there she is amazing.”

Next Bernhardt.

“He epitomizes healthy relationships and healthy friendships,” said Wilson. “He talks about and shares who he is in all spaces. His leadership comes through in many different ways and thats what kept coming up when i talked to staff about Jeff.”

Flansberg was next and Wilson talked about a moment when he stepped up to help a younger Mapleton student while working near a creek during outdoor class time.

“It was just this moment that exuded who Mason is as a person and a leader,” said Wilson. “Always taking care of people around him and making sure things are calm and moving forward.”

Next was Berg, who only arrived in Mapleton during the COVID pandemic but has already made a big impact. 

“Conner shows up when it matters most,” Wilson said. “He has become part of our community … he is extremely professional in the way he moves through his school work. He advocates for himself. He tells his interest and always, like Mr. Burruss said, goes all out.”

Lewis was the last graduate the Superintendent honored.

“Caleb demonstrates leadership and confidence,” said Wilson. “He has advocated for his own needs while taking a not so typical route through high school.”

After each graduate was honored Wilson announced the winner of the 2023 Outstanding Senior, as chosen by the Mapleton staff who voted using four criteria — leadership, service, scholarship and character.

“You are our outstanding senior this year,” Wilson said to Lewis as she presented him his award. “You exude those criteria of leadership, service, scholarship and character.”

Next diplomas were presented and Wilson presented the graduating class to the community to rousing rounds of applause.

To watch the event in full go to www.youtube.com/live/8AKk47C6RRs.