The ceremonies at Carlton and Wrenshall high schools Friday, May 28, had all the hallmarks of traditional graduations.

Wrenshall graduates Mark Johnson (right) and Hailey Tauzell share a laugh before heading into the school commons area for the ceremony Friday, May 28, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb / jmalcomb@pinejournal.com)
Wrenshall graduates Mark Johnson (right) and Hailey Tauzell share a laugh before heading into the school commons area for the ceremony Friday, May 28, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb / jmalcomb@pinejournal.com)

There were smiles, inside jokes, hugs and even a few tears, but the graduation ceremonies at Carlton and Wrenshall looked far more familiar than they did a year ago.

Brooke Kent decorated her mortarboard for commencement at Wrenshall High School on Friday, May 28, 2021.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Brooke Kent decorated her mortarboard for commencement at Wrenshall High School on Friday, May 28, 2021. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Carlton students were able to graduate in their gym, while in Wrenshall, people gathered in the school commons area because of renovations at the school’s gym.

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Jeff Hermann (left) takes a photo of Carlton graduates Kristian Hermann (far right) and Colin Emerson before the ceremony Friday, May 28, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb / jmalcomb@pinejournal.com)
Jeff Hermann (left) takes a photo of Carlton graduates Kristian Hermann (far right) and Colin Emerson before the ceremony Friday, May 28, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb / jmalcomb@pinejournal.com)

It stood in stark contrast to services in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many schools had drive-through ceremonies, or in-person attendance was severely limited.

Wrenshall’s graduation was small enough, with just 19 graduates, to conduct the service without masks or too much social distancing.

Zeke Rousseau-Sheff speaks during commencement at Wrenshall High School on Friday, May 28, 2021.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Zeke Rousseau-Sheff speaks during commencement at Wrenshall High School on Friday, May 28, 2021. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

In Carlton, with 32 graduates, there was still plenty of caution. A couple students were forced to attend remotely because of a potential COVID-19 exposure, Superintendent John Engstrom said. Families and guests of graduates had assigned, socially distanced seating.

Carlton's Aja Bell-Bey smiles before entering the gym for graduation Friday, May 28, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb / jmalcomb@pinejournal.com)
Carlton's Aja Bell-Bey smiles before entering the gym for graduation Friday, May 28, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb / jmalcomb@pinejournal.com)

During her remarks at the graduation, Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro said it has been tough with students at the school spending most of the 2020-21 school year in distance learning, but it was great to gather one final time as a group before they move on with the next stage of their lives.

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