SOUTHWICK – Southwick Regional School Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony was a long time coming. For most classes, it’s a 12-year wait. For this class, the wait was even longer because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of an early June celebration, the July 25 graduation was later than usual but still welcomed by graduates and their families who sat 6-feet apart at the bottom of the school’s famous hill — or watched online.
While students and staff touched upon the unusual circumstances that overshadowed the end of the Class of 2020’s senior year, most speeches focused on the normal concerns and celebrations as students leave high school behind.
Co-Valedictorian Riley Prewett began her comments on a humorous note: “Okay, so I know what you’re all thinking, and just to get this out of the way: yes, I’m tall; no, I don’t play basketball; and the weather IS actually pretty nice up here.”
Prewett thanked teachers, administrators, staff, janitors and more for playing a role in the success of the class, especially over the past few months. However, Prewett noted that each year the class had its challenges, some small and some quite large.
“As a kid, and I think I speak for many of us, the idea of being the Class of 2020 was just perfect. It just seemed like THE year to graduate. We covered our bleachers for pep rally with ‘2020 Vision’ posters and banners, with no doubt in our minds that our last few months in the district would be nothing short of perfect. Little did we all know our vision wasn’t so clear, as we remained oblivious to the unforeseen challenges that lie ahead,” said Prewett.
“Well, the challenges this world had in store for us started in first grade when Silly Bands were banned. Wearing a sleeve of these shaped rubber bands was a status symbol in those simple times. They represented our different tastes and personalities but also resulted in 5, 10, and even 15 minutes of recess wasted as we fidgeted with them instead of preparing for our Mad Minutes,” said Prewett.
When senior year finally came, the SRS Class of 2020 lost a classmate early on, which Prewett said was a tragedy that brought the class closer. The previous spring and summer, Triple E forced many sports seasons to shut down early and many senior activities, such as the picnic and signout could not take place.
“Class of 2020, we haven’t had it easy in the slightest and we’ve run into countless obstacles, small and large,” she said. “We were the first class to experience grades seven through 12 in this building, the first class to face those challenges of the revamped DC trip, the first class to graduate in this decade, the first class with two valedictorians, and the first class to lose many of the best parts of high school. But, there is one thing in common with all these challenges: We came through them as a stronger, more unique class. We were thrown into the high school for the first time in the middle of seventh grade, and our high school career ended on Friday, March 13. We were faced with challenges and smaller inconveniences along the way, but look at us, we are all here, together, celebrating our success.”
Co-Valedictorian Evelynn Schoenthal noted that the unusual circumstance of having two valedictorians was fitting for the times.
“ If you had told me three years ago, when I was sitting in the choir section of the 2017 graduation ceremony that my class would not have a traditional graduation, I would not have believed you. When I was a freshman, I looked up to the seniors. They were grown. They had their futures planned out. They got to experience senior pranks, senior picnic, and senior banquet. Everything that a lot of graduates look forward to. Classic Southwick traditions. But, as I stand here today, I realize that seniors always look grown up and knowledgeable. A lot don’t have their lives figured out. We can’t even plan for the future. Everything is uncertain,” said Schoenthal.
“Unconventional” is how she described the class’s academic experience. However, she said it has prepared the class to roll with the challenges.
“Expect the unexpected. Plan for the unexpected. Endure the unexpected. Make the best of the rest of your life, wherever it brings you. Take what this year has taught you, and apply it in the future,” she said.
President Gabrielle Houle pondered the question “What if?” during the graduation ceremony.
“This has been the question that has single-handedly decided many aspects of my future,” said Houle. “The fear of the unknown and my inability to face failure and to accept mistakes. It has come to my attention that I have become the sidekick in my very own story. “
Houle said all the what-ifs are hurdles – “obstacles to overcome in order to reach a higher potential” and noted that the class has seen its share.
“This year alone, we all have faced a world pandemic, one that is ongoing, frightful, and rather unknown. For a period, time did nearly turn to stone- life as we knew it froze, and the question of what if turned to what now? The very future stood at a standstill- a crossroad.”
The 113 members of the SRS Class of 2020 will not soon be forgotten as they move forward to face the challenges of their next adventure with success.