It may have come two months later than expected, but the Highlands School class of 2020 finally got their chance to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas on Saturday morning.
The outdoor graduation ceremony featured all of the traditional activities, albeit from a safe social distance.
A temporary stage was set up on the infield of the track with students and their parents sitting at least six-feet from their neighbors. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, face coverings were worn and physical contact was discouraged. All spectators had to watch from outside the fence along 5th Street.
“Along with graduates across the globe, this senior class in Highlands saw their school year come to an end in a way that no one could have foreseen just a few months earlier,” pastor Randy Lucas said during his invocation. “Yet they have endured, and completed this leg of life’s journey successfully.”
In-person classes were cancelled at Highlands in March due to COVID-19. The senior class spent its final weeks completing assignments and exams online via a virtual platform.
Highlands’ 2020 salutatorian Morgan Olvera made light of the unforeseen circumstances that led to the disruption of her senior year in her welcoming address.
“I am really glad to be the first one up here to speak, because the way things are going a meteor may hit by the end of this ceremony,” Olvera said. “I never believed that I would be standing in front of you, but here we are and I hope to inspire everyone to look beyond their circumstances.”
The 2020 class chose teacher assistant Cindy Reed to give the commencement address. Reed remembered back to when she first met many of the graduates – as first grade students.
“Highlands School is unique because it’s a community school and a family within itself,” Reed said. “Not often does someone have an opportunity to see students grow through their education. I have looked forward to what each day may bring, from the energized little ones to the smiles on your beautiful faces today.”
Reed encouraged the graduates to continue learning, put their energy into positive actions and be good citizens.
“You will make some mistakes, we all have, but you will survive and that will make you stronger and wiser,” Reed said. “I want to encourage each of you to follow your dreams, achieve your goals and make sure that whatever you decide to do in life that it makes you happy.”
After the members of the class of 2020 crossed the stage and picked up their diplomas, co-valedictorians Camren Dalton and Sayla Roman used their time at the podium to remember their fondest moments at Highlands School and look into the future.
“I know that life the last few months has been an excellent teacher,” Dalton said. “Some of the lessons were old classics, like you can’t always get what you want, but some were new to us and showed us that life can change in the blink of an eye.”
Roman chose to look at the bright side following a turbulent school year. She pointed out that the outdoor ceremony, on a picturesque summer morning, was a refreshing change from the traditional graduation in the school gymnasium.
“Of course the masks are uncomfortable, and staying apart is difficult, and to be honest we don’t do a very good job,” Roman said. “But we are here in beautiful Highlands, North Carolina, finally closing the chapter on our high school years. We should all be extremely proud.”
The ceremony concluded with a tossing of the caps along the track as family and friends snapped pictures.
It may not have been the graduation day they envisioned, but the class of 2020 persevered and crossed the finish line together.