The plans changed abruptly and Mark Skillstad and his daughter Kinsey didn’t want it all to end this way.
Mark is the principal at St. Patrick High School in North Platte and earlier this year announced he was retiring at the end of the school year. Mark and his wife, Raegan’s, youngest child, Kinsey, is a senior.
Mark served North Platte Catholic Schools for 40 years, 17 as a teacher and coach and 23 as principal and activities director.
“I’ve asked myself if I had known this was going to happen, would this have been my last year or would I have waited a year,” Mark said. “I keep coming back to the same answer — no — this is a time for me to move on. but it’s very disappointing, bittersweet.
He said he was looking forward to having his daughter being a part of his last graduating class.
“It’s been very difficult,” Mark said with emotion in his voice. “I start out my day with some prayer, and when I’m sitting by myself in my office, it’s tears and I’m sure there’s a lot of other people like that too.
“But we’ll get through it and hopefully be stronger because of it.”
Kinsey has lost a lot of her senior opportunities as well, but there is one thing she will cherish.
“My favorite memory of my dad is just walking in to school and seeing his smile and greeting my dad every day,” Kinsey said. “Because I start my day off good seeing my dad and his smile. He has one of the best smiles in the world.”
She said Mark greeted all of the students each day of the school year. Over his tenure, Mark said there are many things that will stand out as precious memories.
“Every year was very unique, a different group of kids every year and a very different graduating class,” Mark said. “This particular senior class by many accounts, I hear teachers saying this might be one of the best groups of kids we had to work with, at least within their memory.”
That has made it even more difficult, Mark said, this group having to endure the disappointment. However, he said he has still been working to salvage some of the events for the kids.
“We went from normal to everything shut down within a few days,” Mark said. “Now it’s just been a daily ordeal to come to school and try to do some of the things you would normally be doing.”
Mark said the events will not be completely lost and he hopes the honors assembly will still find a way.
“There won’t be anybody there, there won’t be anybody in the audience,” Mark said. “The audience may be on the screen. We’re just trying to struggle through these issues.”
The honors assembly is one of his favorite events.
“That seniors honors assembly was always impressive to watch the kids all walk in, they’re all dressed up and taking their seat in the front of the gym,” Mark said. “That was always a little bit of a tearful moment for me watching those kids come in.”
Another moment he will miss is the graduation ceremony that always takes place at St. Patrick Catholic Church.
“Of course, watching kids come up to take their seat in the church pew on graduation Sunday was always an emotional moment for me also,” Mark said.
Kinsey said both of them are missing out on so much together.
“It’s a hard situation just knowing that we’re both leaving and it’s like we don’t get a chance to say goodbye,” Kinsey said. “We don’t get to have those last moments at school. It’s not just me leaving and graduating we’re not going to get to experience, he had his last day being a principal and he’s not going to have any more.”
She said neither of them knew at the time a few weeks ago that they had experienced their last day at school. Not only will she miss her dad’s daily smile and greeting, but Kinsey said she will miss her friends.
“My favorite memory of high school is just being able to play sports with the teams that I did,” Kinsey said. “It was just because they were so faith-based and so positive and we always just had such a great time together.”
Mark said he hopes his daughter learns from this unfortunate experience.
“I hope she learns that life is going to have some challenges — their class has dealt with a big one — and hopefully they can continue to deal with it with a great deal of grace and understanding,” Mark said.
Kinsey seems to have already fulfilled her dad’s hope for her through this.
“Never take anything for granted,” Kinsey said about what she has learned. “I would always complain about having to go to school and sometimes I would just not want to be there.
“Now that everything’s taken away, I just want everything back.”