GRAFTON—One of the messages often heard at a graduation ceremony is about perseverance. It is one of facing overwhelming odds head-on, finding alternative ways to address a situation and ultimately pushing through, and the Grafton High School (GHS) Class of 2020 got a first-hand lesson in just that.
After the Coronavirus attempted to put a halt to the customary events of a student’s senior year including their final rite of passage, school officials were faced with finding an alternate solution to hosting a Commencement Ceremony.
On Saturday, seniors were welcomed to the high school one last time, for a unique graduation experience. Although it was not the graduation that the students and their parents hoped for, it was a chance for each of the graduates to be recognized for their hard work throughout their primary education.
“Graduation while not traditional was a fantastic way to individually honor the Class of 2020. Mrs. Shumaker put together a schedule that allowed each graduate to accept their diploma, pose for a picture and receive individual remarks about their time at Grafton High School,” said Superintendent Christy Miller. “The entire day was captured on video and each graduate will receive a copy. It was a wonderful way to send off each graduate who had lost so much this past year.”
Students reported to the school in groups and waited in their vehicles to have their chance to walk across the stage and get their coveted diplomas. They then lined up and their names were called, as parents and loved ones watched them make their customary walk, turning their tassels and throwing their caps.
“What we found, when we arrived was something far better than we had envisioned or anticipated. The faculty and staff, Mrs. Shumaker, our principal, Mrs. Snyder, our outgoing assistant principal, along with several members of the Taylor County BOE were there with a very sincere effort to embrace our children (figuratively speaking) and celebrate their day,” said GHS Senior Parent Jacci Maier. “So, thank you to GHS faculty and staff and the Taylor County BOE for doing your best to make our children’s Graduation Day as special as possible even amidst this pandemic.”
Senior Caroline Maier said that her graduation day was something she had always looked forward to, after taking part in previous ceremonies by running video for Mr. Zukowski.
“I would watch every graduate crossing over that stage, thinking I couldn’t wait for my turn and was so excited waiting for my big day to come. As this year approached, I realized my turn was just about up and was trying so hard to cherish all the memories I could,” she commented. “Many of us were really disappointed and upset, but I realized that there was nothing we really could have done and it’s just high school. We have our whole lives to look forward to.”
“I didn’t get closure of seeing all my classmates in their caps and gowns and saying our goodbyes. And although I know it couldn’t be helped, this will forever be a void for me,” C. Maier added. “This is just one chapter in our lives, and we’ll all do great things, I have no doubts. So, to the class of 2020, we did it!”
Early Saturday morning, the GHS Class of 2020 Valedictorian and Salutatorian donned their caps and gowns and presented messages, that were delivered virtually, to their classmates.
This year’s Valedictorian, Fletcher Newell, delivered a heartfelt message to his fellow graduates addressing the sad circumstances of their final year of school.
“The world we knew began to disappear,” noted Newell. “With the world having changed so much in such a short amount of time, it is easy to say that our primary education failed us, because it failed to prepare us for a world outside of academics.”
He said that they had always been taught that upon meeting someone new, they should shake their hand, but now that act sends people running for hand sanitizer.
“We were taught that investing in businesses would make us wealthy, but now we know that we should have been investing not in the stock market but in toilet paper,” Newell jested.
He said that although there were shortcomings in their educations, he and his classmates should focus on the lessons that have been learned through the years.
“Although shaking someone’s hand may now be a health risk, we learned that we should always be respectful of our colleagues. Despite the continued fall in the stock market, we learned that becoming successful means taking risks,” Newell voiced. “If there is one thing our education has taught us it is that the world is always changing.”
He said that just because there might be a plot twist in the story of life, it doesn’t mean the story is over.
“The end of high school marks not the end of our story, but the end of a single chapter,” Newell noted. “While the times we live in might be uncertain, it will ultimately be the choices and decisions of all of us that will write the next chapter in the legacy of the Class of 2020.”
Salutatorian Jamie Dotson followed Newell with a special message of her own.
“Our experience has been far from picture perfect. There have been tears, frustration, disappointment and hundreds of obstacles to get through, and that was just junior year,” she joked.
Dotson said that it was her intention to focus on the positives of their crazy journey as Grafton High School Bearcats.
“We are here to celebrate the fact that we entered high school and by some miracle, came back in one piece. No, we did not have a normal high school experience, but that makes it no less memorable or worth having,” she expressed. “The teachers I have had, the friends I have made and the memories I have accumulated cannot be replace.”
She said that she refuses to think that their high school years were the best years of their lives, however she feels they were the most formative and memorable years.
“I want to leave you with a piece of advice I was given once. Take risks. And, when I say take risks, I mean do something outside of your comfort zone, something that challenges you,” Dotson voiced.
She told her classmates to not be afraid to take chances and to not take for granted the time that is given to each of them.
“Whether you are college bound, plan to pursue a trade or just intend on going wherever the wind takes you, one thing remains true—we did it. We get to hold our diplomas and say we did it,” Dotson imparted. “We have a lot to be proud of Class of 2020, and I know we will go far. Life’s a beach, and we just have to ride out the waves.”
Grafton High School Principal Lori Shumaker addressed this year’s graduates, speaking to them about the two things she hopes they take away from their senior and time at GHS.
“Today it is really just about you—your name, your diploma and your family,” said Shumaker. “I have thought about what I was going to say to you today, and I’ve had plenty of time. Today, I have two words that I want you to take with you.”
Her first word was resilience.
“There is no way there is another word for this Class of 2020 than resilience,” she voiced.
She said that the resilience, the knowledge of how to bounce back, is something that this year’s senior class has had to learn how to do and should be their biggest lesson of their high school career.
The second word is she discussed with the graduates was something Shumaker had tried to instill in the students, especially during the last few months. She reminded the Class of 2020 that through political divide, the turmoil over race relations and disagreements from opposing sides of the COVID-19 pandemic, the one thing she wanted her students to remember was the kindness they witnessed.
“Nothing else matters at the end of day other than kindness,” Shumaker voiced. “Kindness will make other people’s lives and your life better in every situation. Your opinion is only as important as when it starts to hurt other people, and that is where kindness comes in.”
One thing is certain, the Grafton High School Class of 2020 and their character, strength, determination, resilience and kindness will forever be remembered, thanks, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are so incredibly proud of each and every one of you. Congratulations to the Class of 2020! Go out and make us all proud, and never forget— once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat,” imparted Shumaker.