Valedictorian Suriana Lee says the class of 2020 was drawn closer together even while physically apart. See more photos here.
LEE, Mass. — Instead of walking across the Tanglewood stage, the Lee High School class of 2020 made do with their own football field but still found a way to make the ceremony special and their own.
Lee High graduated 53 seniors Friday evening during a compromised graduation ceremony affected, like many others, by the COVID-19 pandemic. But class speaker Taggart Roosa found the football field quite fitting.
"Many of us have been using this field for as long as we can remember, whether it was for field day throughout elementary school," he said. "Or coming here every Friday night not to watch football but to play kill the carrier over by the greenhouse, or sledding down the hill on snow days."
Roosa said as they grew older they used the football field for different things: for actual football games, band performances, choral performances, and of course still sledding.
He looked beyond the field and saw it as an extension of the community that has been with the class of 2020 from the very beginning.
This class is really no different than others, he said, noting many of their grandparents were young during World War II and many of their parents were young during 9/11.
It's just that the class of 2020 happens to be graduating during a global pandemic.
"Like our predecessors, we will not let this world-altering event define us," he said. "It can change our last days of high school, it can change our graduation, but it will not change the class of 2020 who prefers to think of this not as a quarantine but as the longest senior skip day ever."
And this was felt throughout the ceremony.
Graduates sat with their families spread out through the field and picked up their own diplomas. There were no hand offs, handshakes, or hugs.
After the ceremony, families were asked to leave by rows and not congregate with others. Other than that, the ceremony was quite normal.
Principal Gregg Brighenti said this was the first class he had seen through the entire six years of the middle and high school and, with all the difficulties this year, "it is so good to see you all here together today after almost three months."
He said he wanted to leave the class of 2020 with one final lesson and meditated on why educators do what they do — love.
Students share this same love for each other and others as they social distanced to protect people and gave up many of the milestones of their senior year.
"I saw the love you have for each other as you found ways to gather together while social distancing. At least once it was on the roof of the school," he said. "I saw it in the tears in some of your eyes during those locker clean-out days and, I'll be honest here, may have tingled a little bit as you paraded into an empty school with your masks on that week."
He said the class of 2020 was born during 9/11 and come into adulthood during a pandemic and that they are more than capable of creating a better world.
"It will be your task more so than your teachers, parents, or grandparents to create that newer world and to figure out what that looks like," he said. "As you do I beg you to ground yourself in the idea, that you have helped reinforce for me over these past few months, the idea that it is about love above all else."
Valedictorian Suriana Lee said today that the class says goodbye to friends, teachers, and faculty and begins to dream of the future that lies ahead. She said today was also a day to reflect on the past four years.
"We reminisce in the memories that made our high school experience so great and uplifting, as well as the moments that felt like we were going through an actual pandemic," she said. "Which we are."
Class speaker Taggart Roosa finds graduating in the football field fitting while salutatorian Emily Molino challenges her classmates to set goals.
She said the class of 2020 made a lot of mistakes and have hurt each other and made others cry. They made "dumb mistakes" and "gotten in more trouble as a group than anyone can ever Imagine" forcing a classwide intervention.
But the biggest mistake was waiting so long to truly come together.
"Our biggest mistake was not spending more time together until we were forced to socially distance," she said. "Our biggest mistake was not admitting that through it all, we mean more to each other than we’ll ever know. Our biggest mistake was that even though we’ve made countless memories together, we didn't make more."
She lamented that they missed out prom, class night, and never got to properly so goodbye to their teachers, classrooms or hallways.
But these challenges and disappointments have brought the class of 2020 together in different ways. She said they have been through all of these challenges, including a pandemic, together.
"This great support system that we have built within ourselves, within each other, and throughout the school has created a community where we can all learn from each other and push ourselves to be the best people that we can be," she said. "After all, we are told from childhood that our dreams are limitless, and I believe it."
She left her classmates with some advice — extend this kindness to others and "become a generation to pass kindness" because you never know when a "killer virus, murder hornets, the apocalypse" are around the corner.
Salutatorian Emily Molino looked back at four years of experiences such as cold football games, spirit weeks, labs, coffee spills, and even watching teachers get pies in their faces.
She said although it is important to savior these memories it is just as important to look forward.
"There are so many times in the future that will be even better," she said. "We don’t need to have our entire lives planned out, but whatever twists and turns will arise, having goals to reach for will help us have something wonderful to strive for."
She urged her classmates to set goals and work hard to achieve them. She said they have "conquered" high school and are ready for the next goal.
"High school may be coming to a close but class of 2020 remember nothing can get in our
way of achieving anything we want to," she said.
Superintendent Michael Richard said this is a challenging time in Berkshire County, in Massachusetts, and in the country with COVID-19, unemployment, and discrimination as constants in headlines.
He called back to the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It’s Worth" and asked students to reflect on the lyrics when they got a chance.
"Stop, listen, and look around. Be actively and appropriately engaged in social, civic, and academic discourse," he said. "You all have something to give to this community or whichever one you call home, and I am confident that you will be contributors to our ever-changing society."
He also referred to the song "Hello, Goodbye" by the Beatles noting that as a "new" superintendent who was only with students for three weeks before the school closed the lyrics "you say goodbye, I say hello" really resonated with him
"Today I am saying hello and you are saying goodbye," he said. "Regardless of how little we have had the chance to get acquainted, you should know that I am proud of you, Members of the class of 2020. You have stepped up and met the challenges before you. You have risen to the occasion when the deck appeared to be stacked against you. I greet you tonight and bid you adieu feeling confident that you will make us all proud."
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