Waterloo High School graduates now join the ranks of other area students who have seen the milestone of their graduation transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, as the school honored the Class of 2020 in unique ways Friday.
The festivities started Friday morning, as WHS hosted a drive-thru diploma pickup in the parking lot to honor students. Socially-distanced faculty members cheered for students as they grabbed their diplomas from a table, with a PA system announcing them as they pulled up in their cars.
The event was met with mostly positive reactions from parents and students.
One graduate took to Facebook to recognize the school for all it has done to honor her classmates, noting the various events held and banners downtown with graduates’ names on them, and chastise adults complaining about students not being celebrated enough.
“As opposed to one day, we’ve had about a month of celebration,” Callie Metzger posted. “If I, an 18-year-old who this directly applies to, can understand and accept what is happening, then so should everyone else in this entire community.”
Judee Sliment, the mother of a 2020 grad, also said that event was “fantastic.”
“It was perfect from start to finish,” Sliment said. “They found a way to make those kids feel so special, loved and valued in a tough situation. The teachers and staff lining the sidewalks, holding signs, yelling out words of love and encouragement, was absolute perfection.”
View a video clip of that event by clicking here.
Friday evening, WHS shared a pre-recorded virtual graduation video, with the roughly hour-long video serving as the only ceremony students will get until the school can hold an in-person one later – if that is possible.
The video began with the WHS Senior Quartet of Hayley Offerman, Rayn Nauert, Eli Ward and Sam Morgan singing the National Anthem over a montage of school or Waterloo-related patriotic photos.
The first speaker was WHS Principal Lori Costello, who, like all others, talked about how the pandemic has shaped the last few months of life for seniors.
“Even though it may seem that so much has been taken from you during your senior year, you really have gained so much, even more,” Costello said. “You’ve had your families, your communities and even strangers coming together to encourage and support you like no other graduating class has ever had before. You have supported and encouraged each other like no other class has before.”
Next, each of the class officers gave a short speech, ending with class president Sydney Stephens.
She told how she originally planned to make a video showcasing students’ response to questions like what their favorite part of senior year was, but that changed when schools closed over two months ago.
“The adversity thrown our way on March 16, a global pandemic, is now a mark on the rest of our lives,” Stephens said. (“It’s) an experience, something we are fortunate to say we lived through and sadly, others are not. This experience, from what I can tell, is something that we, the Class of 2020, have made the most of, have embraced and found the positive in the adverse. I’m so proud of us.”
Class salutatorians Adam Ferry and Paige Kinzinger and valedictorians William Hicks, Alyssa Swift and Madalyn Valerius gave brief speeches.
In her speech, Valerius talked about success and how her classmates can achieve it.
“I believe that all of you guys are going to find happiness in your lives no matter what tough things you go through because you’ve gone through this and you found a greater appreciation for the life you have, even with all the things we missed out on,” Valerius said.
Next up, the school recognized those students who have volunteered to serve in our nation’s military and those who were part of the Running Start program, earning high school diplomas and associate’s degrees simultaneously.
The WHS Choir then gave a virtual performance of “One Voice,” the faces of the students singing during a video call slowly filling the screen. Pictures of the graduating class were interwoven during the song.
The final speaker was Waterloo Superintendent Brian Charron, who gave advice to graduates as they enter the next phase of their lives. Charron encouraged the former WHS pupils to study hard in college if they are attending, but to not let studying stop them for enjoying life.
He ended with a challenge.
“We are counting on you to change the world,” Charron said.
The ceremony concluded with the recognition of all graduates, with a picture of each one in a cap and gown with their diploma and their name beside them flashing on the screen as names were read aloud.
Another montage with pictures of the Class of 2020 wrapped up the ceremony. To view the graduation video, click here.