Friday, July 10, 2020

Graduating Amid a Pandemic













Grandview High School Class of 2020 Recognized


By Mary K. King

On March 12, 2020, the senior class of Grandview High School went home for spring break. This would be the last time they saw each other until graduation, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of school buildings and districts across the country implemented distance learning. Despite various challenges, the Grandview School District hosted a graduation ceremony, drive-through style, for the class of 2020 on Monday, June 29.

Following the ceremony, the district put together a video featuring the traditional speeches typically heard at graduation. Principal Dr. Jennifer Price, retiring this school year, stated that if the graduates surround themselves with people who make them happy, who push them and challenge them, they will be a force to change the world. This theme of change and of overcoming adversity was a common thread in all of the graduation speeches.

“I know this is not the graduation ceremony that you envisioned when you started your senior year 10 months ago, or even when you started your last semester in January,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez. “I know that you’ve been dreaming about this moment and, at no time, dreamt that this would be how it would play out. I believe that you have an amazing opportunity - a calling, if you will - to go forth from this moment and create a future with more purpose, vision, energy and hope than those who came before you.”

Rodrequez went on to say that this is the point where he typically tells the graduating class some words of wisdom, and shares what they can expect to see in the future. However, he said, this time he doesn’t know those answers.

“We tend to speak to you as if we somehow have it figured out,” he said. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen next. We don’t know how things will improve or how the world will be different when we get to the other side of this pandemic. We don’t know how the country will change based upon the protests related to the social injustice that we’ve witnessed these past weeks. We don’t know if systemic inequities are going to continue to exist in our society or if they will finally be addressed.

“What I do know is that everything happens for a reason,” Rodrequez added. “You are a chosen class. It might not feel that way to you now, but you have been chosen for a reason. You can think of all this as a negative, or you can change your mindset and realize that you have an opportunity - an opportunity to seize your future and the future of this country. You have more power now than you can possibly imagine.”

Rodrequez challenged the class of 2020 to put more love than hate out into the world, and to rise above the tasks of the last several months.

“You are bulldogs and you can build the future that you want to see,” he said. “The fight to build that future will not be easy, but it will be worth it.”

Class Salutatorian Kiyah Neely said that she feels her class was robbed of their senior year due to the pandemic. Despite that, however, she said that her class had amazing school spirit, and the ability of her peers to come together for the good of the whole has been a quality she has admired.

“It cannot take away the fact that we made it,” said Neely. “Most of us have been surrounded by the same people for years, and it is truly amazing watching people grow and become who they’re meant to be.

Jason Keleher, class valedictorian, assured his classmates that the lack of a traditional graduation ceremony does not reflect that the class of 2020 put in any less effort than other classes.

“I choose to perceive this strange opportunity as a unique send-off point for a uniquely talented generation,” said Keleher. “Walking through our high school halls as a freshman, I could tell there was something special about the class of 2020, aside from all the puns about us having 2020 vision. We tried harder and aimed further than the classes that came before us, never settling for mediocrity.

“In this ever-changing world of division and isolation we graduates are about to enter into, those aspirations are desperately needed,” Keleher added. “We need the loud, clear voices of this generation to be vocal about injustice, truth and hope. We must challenge apathy wherever it appears and instead promote compassion. And we must be agents of positive change, even if it means abandoning the safety and comfort of the past.”

Though the future may be uncertain for the graduates, class president Jadyn Brooks said that she believes her class will be the one to shake up the world.

“We are the class of 2020,” said Brooks, “and we have a perfect vision moving forward.”

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