Graduation 2020 was like no other
High School graduates of 2020 experienced a graduation like no other generation in recent memory. Their last semester of school as normal was interrupted by the global coronavirus pandemic and the crowning pieces of their school careers – Prom, graduation and baccalaureate services – were either canceled, held virtual or, in case of the graduation, celebrated with plenty of social distancing, vinyl gloves and face coverings built-in. As Nome School District Superintendent Jamie Burgess said in her speech: “We had to learn new words and phrases which are now part of our every day vocabulary. My least favorite was ‘distance delivery’, your least favorite was probably ‘virtual prom.’”
Thirty-four Nome-Beltz and Extensions Homeschool Seniors as well as six Mount Edgecumbe High School graduates and one Galena Interior Learning Academy were celebrated with a parade through town and a subsequent graduation ceremony at the parking lot at Nome Beltz. The parade began at the Rec Center, snaked through Nome town, then up to Icy View and looped around the suburb, before hitting the Nome-Teller Highway again before ending at Nome Beltz. Markers at the side of the road were adorned with signs with names and photographs of the graduates.
Graduates were guided to one end of the parking lot, community members and non-grads were advised to park around the center. A lone pep band member, Stephan Anderson, sat on the tailgate of his truck at the NBHS driveway entrance and played the tuba for the graduates.
School faculty doubled as parking lot attendees, wearing face coverings and vinyl gloves and handed out commencement programs that asked people to not exit the vehicle and if one had to, to inform a parking attendant and to wear a face mask.
The ceremony was live broadcasted on KNOM and KICY for one hour. It began with live introductions by NBHS Principal Jay Thomas, a recording of Ellie Martinson’s performance of the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance in Inupiaq and then went to prerecorded speeches by Superintendent Jamie Burgess, Salutatorian Ellie Martinson, Extensions Valedictorian Kristen Daniel, NBHS Valedictorian Ava Earthman, a commencement address by Ron Horner and Natasha Dinsmore as well as a reading of Mary Oliver’s poem “A Summer Day” by Teriscovkya Smith.
In line with social distancing, School Board President Brandy Arrington presented the diplomas in a Nome-unique way: The diplomas were placed into a fish-shaped pouch at the end of a fishing pole, held by Arrington. As Seniors walked up to the stage, they plucked their diplomas out of the pouch, moved their cap tassel to the right side and posed for a photo taken by their family in front of the stage. They then walked back to their vehicles and the next graduate was up on stage.
In her speech, Jamie Burgess drew from a dialogue between Frodo and Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring.” Those living through challenging times ask themselves, why us? Why now? But Gandalf’s wise answer is, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” This holds true for this class of 2020. “I’m sure you wish this would have not happened to you, not at this time,” Burgess said. “But we are not defined by the circumstances but how we choose to respond to them.”
After telling a metaphor of a piece of broken mirror that has the ability to shine light into dark places, she send the seniors on their way into the world with these words: “I am not the light, but it can shine in dark places, if I reflect it. Seniors, you, too, have the ability to be the mirror to reflect light in a world full of uncertainty, darkness and fear. That is a great calling and responsibility placed on your shoulders. Be honest, be truthful, be an example for those around you and reflect light and the path will lighted before you as well.”
Extensions Valedictorian Kristin Daniel reflected her senior experience being “whisked away” by the pandemic. She said, the class of 2020 is so unique that it is fitting to be the class of strength and determination, and bringing those qualities to the world. “These are tough times,” she said. “But we are tougher.”
NBHS Valedictorian Ava Earthman drew on the strength of the class of 2020 as a group. She highlighted all the individuals’ talents and gifts and send out the message that they have survived a pandemic, “and we must not forget who we are as a group.”
Longtime music director Ron Horner gave the commencement speech and reminded the group what he practiced with them all these years in the music room. They always worked on “what’s next”, the next music program, the next performance. As the seniors step into the next phase of their lives, Horner imparted sage advice on them. “First, find a job you think you’re going to like and that you’ll be good at. Don’t sit around and wait for life to happen to you,” he said. “Second, hold on to some values close to your heart and do to others as you want done to you.”
Principal Thomas emceed as diplomas were fished out of the bag dangling at the end of Mrs. Arrington’s fishing pole and he had a personal thing to say about every student. Kelly wants to be a nurse. JJ is headed for college in Montana. Makayla will be a contender in a broadcasting as she did the morning announcements and her energy will be greatly missed.
Clutching their diplomas in hand, the class of 2020 did not throw their caps in the air, nor did white and blue balloons come down. But they were proud nonetheless, and so was the school, their families and the community.