While hope remains to celebrate in person at some point, the Columbia High School Class of 2020 settled for floating heart and thumbs up emojis instead of flying caps.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, CHS presented a pre-recorded virtual graduation ceremony early Sunday afternoon, which was the date of the scheduled commencement for the Class of 2020.
With about 700 viewers watching the pre-produced Facebook Live broadcast, speeches from salutatorian Kelly Long and valedictorians Emma Groetecke and Caleb Bahr were shown before each graduating senior picked up their diploma – one by one – on the platform in an empty CHS gym.
CHS Principal Brian Reeves served as emcee of the virtual commencement video, which was one hour and 42 minutes in length.
Following a solo rendition of the National Anthem sung by senior Aidan Scott, Reeves offered introductory remarks.
“I want to wish you each the best of luck in your future endeavors as you leave our nest to begin your journey to adulthood and make your mark on the world,” Reeves said. “It’s obvious that we did not conclude your senior year as any of us would’ve wished or imagined, but I’m happy that we’re able to provide the graduation event for you on the scheduled graduation date.”
Reeves then announced the top 10 academic students in the graduating class. They are Bahr, Groetecke, Long, Avrie Barthel, Ethan Sturm, Justine Crowell, Alexandria Weary, William Denny and Sydney Packard.
He also recognized retiring district faculty and staff and students entering the military.
Then it was time for recorded speeches at the podium for salutatorian Long and valedictorians Groetecke and Bahr.
Long referenced the classic short story by Stephen Crane titled “The Open Boat,” which is about four men surviving a sinking boat.
Long said these men had to face a future and reality that was unknown in their efforts to find land.
“As we move forward, we must also be survivors,” Long said. “To achieve our hopes and dreams, we must use our own strength, fortitude and passion to fight against the known and unknown challenges we will undoubtedly encounter.”
In her valedictorian speech, Groetecke compared the Class of 2020 to her experience as a cross country runner. She said every race in this sport was a battle between her determination and her body.
“High school has been all of our cross country race,” Groetecke said. “There were moments when we all felt defeated. As we stand here today, we’ve crossed our finish line.”
But, she concluded, there’s always more running to go.
“Our voyage has just begun,” she said. “There’s always another race to run and likewise a new chapter of our lives for us to begin.”
The last recorded speech was from co-valedictorian Bahr, who was also the senior class president. With touches of humor, Bahr promised not to offer the typical valedictorian cliches.
“It’s safe to say this day is not what we expected, Class of 2020,” Bahr said. “Still, we endured.”
He encouraged classmates to look at the bright side.
“Everyone will remember our graduation year,” he said.
Bahr added that the best lies ahead for those willing to dream big.
“Here at Columbia, we’re Eagles. So when we take that leap of faith, we don’t have to worry about falling. We can fly and soar toward our dreams. How’s that for cliche endings?”
Those watching the video were able to interact via Facebook emojis and comments throughout, with several comments commending the district’s production of the virtual commencement.
Reeves has said the district has tentatively scheduled an in-person graduation for July 12, with Aug. 2 serving as a backup date. It is dependent on the latest guidelines regarding social gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we have the opportunity, we’re going to look at ways we can do something later on,” Columbia Assistant Superintendent Courtney Castelli said during a recent board meeting.
If there is no opportunity, however, Sunday’s event served as a way for the Class of 2020 to be united as Eagles one last time – even if it was on a computer screen.