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After the flood, a commencement celebration for high schools

May 25, 1997

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) _ They piled sandbags instead of studying for final exams. So Sunday’s graduations were more reunion than farewell for high school seniors whose final year was cut short by the raging Red River.

``No class has missed more school, but perhaps no class has learned more this spring,″ said Superintendent Mark Sanford before Sunday’s ceremonies.

Classes were canceled last month at the two public high schools as the city struggled to prevent the Red River from flooding homes and businesses. The students pitched in, filling sandbags and building dikes.

``They spent their spring serving their community, and each other. ... Not only is this graduation, it’s homecoming,″ the superintendent said.

Red River High’s 271 seniors draped in traditional gowns _ red for young men, white for women _ scurried about the University of North Dakota gymnasium Sunday as their parents and friends filled the wooden bleachers. Central High’s 262 seniors graduated later in the same building that is still being used as a shelter for flood victims.

``We have coped with nature’s fury and survived,″ senior Vinita Parikh said during the commencement. ``We have learned to adapt to circumstances which are difficult to comprehend.″

Later, Central High senior Sara McIntyre said the students had proved they could ``make it through hell and high water.″

Grand Forks’ seniors missed two weeks of April and all of May, time often preoccupied with final tests, college paperwork, yearbook signings and the senior prom. That isn’t until June 28, at a hangar at the Air Force base about 10 miles west of town.

``It’s really weird. It doesn’t even feel like we’re graduating,″ said 19-year-old Laurie Parsons. ``We’ve worked so hard to become seniors, and then this has to happen.″

Amy Tangen and her family moved in with relatives about 60 miles away in rural Fosston, Minn. She attended school there for a couple weeks ``just to kind of feel normal again.″

``I missed out on a lot of things. May is supposed to be a big month for the seniors,″ said the 18-year-old graduate.

City officials say that five weeks after most of this town of 50,000 people was evacuated, thousands have still not returned to their homes. Graduation preparations last week were the first time many had been able to see their friends, said Red River Principal Daryl Bragg.

The Red River is now back in its banks, but the toll is staggering. It will cost an estimated $40 million to repair the city’s schools alone. Two elementary schools and a middle school, which house about 1,100 of the school district’s 9,700 students, may never be rebuilt. School officials plan to use temporary classrooms for instruction this fall.

``They lost a lot, but I think they gained a lot,″ Sanford said of the graduating classes.

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