By Briley Gargis
WARSAW – Warsaw Community High School hosted its very first outdoor graduation Friday, July 17, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seniors finally got their opportunity to walk on the stage and receive their diplomas together as the class of 2020 – something that only a couple of months ago didn’t seem like a possibility. March 13 was the last day that the class was able to gather together for in-person classes. About four months later, the class of 2020 gathered one last time for a graduation ceremony at Fisher Field.
With the lack of valedictorian and salutatorian speeches (a change in policy) and a mind for running the program as fast as possible, organizers were able to run the graduation in about 90 minutes.
Students sat on the football field with social distancing in mind, allowing for all the seats to be six feet apart. Spectators and families were seated on both sides of the field. Attendees were also given wristbands when they entered that delegated them to a specific section, where staff ensured that each person and group sat six feet apart.
WCHS Principal Troy Akers took the stage to begin the unprecedented ceremony and encapsulated the moment with a selfie which he described as “probably the most beautiful place for graduation.”
Akers went on to give a heartfelt speech about how impressed he was to see the graduating class make it through the year of all years – the COVID-19 pandemic.
Akers reminded the class of three big factors. The “class of 2020 needs to be fluid, needs to be flexible and needs to have family as a huge part of how you’re all going to move into your future, whatever it is that your future will be,” Akers said.
Student Body President Lauryn Rhodes gave the commencement address. She mentioned the fact that all the students who were there Friday night went through high school together and reflected on those four years. Rhodes made it clear about how “those (students) sitting in front of me is one of the most unique generations we’ve ever seen. We are living in a world where we are more connected. This generation carries so much potential and possibilities.”
She finished the address by concluding that the Class of 2020 is a group that has the ability to shape the future and make positive change.
Senior Class President Olivia Renier and Vice President Gage Lind then gave the schools’ “President’s Address” following Rhodes’s speech. They both talked about how the student body was born around the time of 9/11. “Then 2020 came and we faced a worldwide pandemic. Who knew our last day in school would be March 13,” said Lind. Both Renier and Lind cited the powerful bond students share and how that will help push them into the future.
Annie Wottring presented the At-Large Address to students. She mentioned her senior quote for the class from C.S. Lewis: “You can’t go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
“What a beautiful truth that is,” Wottring said. “While you may not be able to change the road you took to get here, the things you did, or the things you didn’t do, you now … get to decide how you handle the future.”
Wottring reminded students that each and every single one of them was important and that they should be proud of where they are.
Before Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert gave his remarks, Troy Akers took the stage to give a moment of remembrance to Paige Jefferson, who passed away in early 2018. Akers reminded Jefferson’s family that “we will never forget, we are with you.”
In his address, Hoffert mentioned the fact that this year was the 175th year of education in Warsaw. However, he “didn’t know how unique it would become for the class of 2020.” He then praised the class for setting the bar in “absolutely unimaginable ways.”
After his remarks, the Class of 2020 received their diplomas.
Fireworks planned for the end of the event began firing off in the middle of handing out diplomas. The ceremony ended with the turning of the tassels and individual celebrations.