May 21 2020 08:00 AM

    Whether one walks across the stage or down a barn aisle, graduation milestones are worth celebrating.

    Cassie celebrated her eighth grade graduation in our freestall barn. She is pictured with her favorite cow, Bohnerts Metallica Gillie, E-92, who Cassie has shown since she was a fall heifer calf.

    When I look at my soon-to-be 14-year-old daughter, I often think back to myself at that age. Truthfully, though, Cassie oozes so much more confidence than I ever did as a teenager. And, over the last 10 weeks with this stay-at-home order in place, I've watched my daughter handle disappointment with grace and dignity, as it ought to be handled.

    COVID-19 not only canceled school for the remainder of the year, but it also canceled Cassie's middle school graduation, her confirmation into the Catholic church, and her class trip to Washington, D.C. Not once did I hear Cassie feel sorry for herself. Just a few days ago, our county fair was canceled, too. She responded to it all by responding, "Let's go to Iowa to show cows!"

    Perseverance — farm kids illustrate this day in and day out. They witness older generations shouldering the same determination and sheer will to make the most out of any situation.

    In my head, I've played out the scene of my sweet daughter walking across the stage and saying goodbye to middle school and hello to the next life chapter. I know she would have given a firm handshake and smiled big after receiving her diploma — after all, she is a farm girl. She would have humbly thanked the family that came to watch, humble of all her honor roll accomplishments.

    This moment was stolen from me, but more importantly, it was taken from her — and so many other kids. When I said, "I guess we can do graduation in the barn," Cassie rolled her eyes. However, her goodwill humor had her sporting her cap and gown in our freestall barn, with our beloved Jersey cows in the background, while I applauded my daughter on all her middle school accomplishments. I got my moment, and so did Cassie, who flashed her winning smile and said, "It was not the way I imagined it, but I think it's better this way."

    Cassie Ann, I see glimpses of the beautiful woman you're becoming. Greatness lies ahead and I, for one, couldn't be more proud. And, yes, I'll admit, I see a scary and very uncertain world that I worry about, but not you. You know that the world needs essential workers, and you know that agriculture falls under this umbrella. "There will always be a place for farmers, Mom!" she told me.

    So, don't mind me as I wipe away the tears. While I'm scared for the future, I see this bright-eyed young woman with a big smile embracing the challenges set ahead of her with bravery and assurance, rolling up her sleeves to work harder than many adults.

    I worry about temptations and peer pressures that are to come, but once again, my daughter is so much more than I ever was at that age. She knows who she is — and Cassie doesn't need the approval of others to remind her of her own self-worth. This type of confidence is hard to come by. Cassie, please don't allow life or people to tarnish this, as it will serve as a launch pad for a promising future.

    Undoubtedly, road bumps will come, as most of us have witnessed this last few months with the cancelations of life milestones and celebrations. Class of 2020, continue to focus on the goodness in the world because the world needs a bright light, now more than ever. My takeaway message to all graduates is to be the light to help our nation move forward!


    Karen Bohnert

    Karen Bohnert is a second-generation dairy farmer, born and raised on her family dairy in Oregon and moved east after graduating from Oregon State Univer-sity. Karen and her husband work in partnership with family, and they along with their three children live and work on the family's 500 Jersey cow dairy in East Moline, Ill. Karen's pride and love for dairy could fill a barn, and she actively promotes dairy anyway she can.