GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Pomp and Circumstance never sounded so good.

After a year of a senior experience that usually involved staring at their teachers and classmates on a computer screen, Jenison High School seniors were able to gather to receive their diplomas Thursday.

The outdoor commencement exercise was moved up an hour to beat rainfall predicted for the area.

“I think it’s going to be the conclusion of an awesome journey,” graduating senior Connor Vachon said. “I’ve been in this district for most of my life, 12 to 13 years. It’s definitely going to be just unreal.”

Graduating with a 4.26 GPA, Vachon did it all. Honor Society, cross county and theater club are just a few groups he was a part of.

After the pandemic halted many of those things, Vachon says there’s been a lesson in what’s been missed.

“This year definitely taught our class and everybody in our school to not take anything for granted now,” Vachon said.

Graduation at Jenison High School on May 27, 2021.

But it wasn’t just a milestone for seniors, it was also a milestone for Superintendent Tom TenBrink. He’s retiring after 34 years with the district — 18 of them as superintendent.

“I can’t think of a better graduating class than the class of 2021 to be graduating with,” TenBrink said.

And it’s not just because they made it through the pandemic. The class of 2021’s efforts that raised $29,000 for a local charity that feeds needy children is just one example.

Graduation at Jenison High School on May 27, 2021.

“I’m so proud of them because of the way they’ve handled it. And the way in which they continue to serve,” said TenBrink, who retires in July. “That’s one of the things that’s really big for us here in Jenison Public Schools: being servant leaders.”

And for one senior in particular, TenBrink has been more than a superintendent — he’s been a mentor.

Vachon, who heads to Hope College in the fall as an education major, has followed TenBrink’s career since he was in the eighth grade and has been inspired to follow in TenBrink’s footsteps.

“Our world is not a level playing field, and when you go into school, it’s good to help students who need it and get everybody started out right,” Vachon said.

Graduating senior Connor Vachon and Jenison Superintendent Tom TenBrink, who retires in July, during the commencement ceremony. (May 27, 2021)

“That’s what we need,” TenBrink said. “We need some of our very best going into education and being teachers and coaches. Hopefully, he wants to direct a play some day and do all of the work he needs to prepare himself to be an administrator someday.”

And help teach the lessons you won’t find in a textbook.