EATON — The Class of 2020 was the 149th to graduate from Eaton Schools, but it wasn’t the first to graduate during a pandemic.
“Nope,” Superintendent Jeff Parker said during the first ceremony held on May 29, “According to my loose research, the Eaton class of 2020 is the fifth class to graduate during a pandemic. However, I believe that you are the first to experience an extended end-of-school-year closure for 49 days during your senior year as a result of a pandemic.”
It was also the first class to have two commencement ceremonies, a parade and fireworks in its honor at the fairgrounds. And the first class to graduate outside in the current football stadium.
Members of the class were presented their diplomas on Thursday and Friday, May 28-29, then an outdoor commencement was held on Friday, June 5, at the stadium, followed by the parade and fireworks.
Principal Scott Couch congratulated the graduates. “You have worked hard during the past four years and are ready and prepared to move on to the next journey of your life. Regardless if that is joining the military, joining the workforce or enrolling in college or a mixture of the three, we’re very proud of your accomplishments, and it is exciting to see the great things you will do in the future. Obviously, the school year did not end the way we wanted it to.”
“On March 13, when we left school, we did not know how long we would be out, but I would never have guessed it would have been for the remainder of the school year,” Couch said.
“You did not get to have several memories — the senior events at the end of the year — but think of the positives, you are the first class to have the opportunity to paint departments up. You are the first graduating class to have the senior composite up outside the building. You’re the first class who had a scheduled parade through town, two scheduled commencement ceremonies and a scheduled fireworks display.
“And most importantly, you are getting your diploma from a family member.”
“You are definitely a class that will be remembered,” he added. “This virus may have stolen a part of your senior year, but it cannot and will not steal your future. Stay positive and work hard.”
“You are a resilient group that has handled the situation well,” he told the graduates. “Being able to adapt to various situations in life is a skill that will help you be successful. Continue to take care of others.”
Couch thanked the staff members at Eaton High School for their flexibility in how the school year ended, and the work they had done with the students the past four years.
“And to the parents of the seniors that are graduating, I’d like to thank you for entrusting to us the past four years, your most cherished commodity. And thank you for your patience and support during the unprecedented times in the fluid situation that we were all dealt with during the school year.” He also thanked everyone who helped put the program together: staff, students and administration.
Parker encouraged the graduates “to be mindful.”
“Number one in life,” Parker said, “we need to be mindful of ourselves. If we’re not mindful of ourselves first, it will be impossible to effectively care for, and take care of, others. For those of you who’ve been on a commercial airplane, what’s the first instruction that the flight attendant gives you when talking about the oxygen mask?”
“First,” Parker said, “They tell you, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Because if you don’t take care of yourself with your oxygen first, you’re not going to be able to take care of others. So it’s really that way, in life. You have to be mindful of yourself first and what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, and where your mental health is. In order for you to take care of others in your life, you have to be mindful of yourself first. Be mindful.
“Be mindful of your family. Whoever your family is, please be mindful of them. We have a responsibility and an obligation to be mindful of our families. Now I know most, if not every one of you graduates understand and knows, that your parents, grandparents, and guardians put you first,” he continued.
“But I firmly believe the most effective parents, grandparents and guardians are the ones who are mindful of themselves first, so they can put you first in their lives. This will be the challenge, when you start your families — being mindful of yourself in the effort of putting your family first.
“Be mindful. Be mindful of others,” he reiterated. “Again, I’ve come to the realization that it is our duty, I believe, as citizens in a democratic society to be mindful of others. Being mindful of others is probably the most challenging area of mindfulness for most of us and the area that we have to work at the most. Being mindful of others is being respectful of others as human beings regardless of the situation. Being mindful of others is being aware that not everyone thinks alike. And that’s okay. Being mindful is understanding that both of you can be right for you. Each experience in life can help us improve our mindfulness of ourselves, our families, and others.”
“I can tell you that the last two and a half months certainly sharpened my mindfulness in a way that I did not anticipate,” Parker continued.
“I hope one of the positive perspectives each one of you gained during the last two and a half months is how to be better at being mindful of yourself, your family and others.”
“In the spirit — and I think this will be the last time I say mindfulness — in the spirit of mindfulness, my prayer for each and every one of you is that you decide that God, family and country and treating all human beings — regardless of where they come from, with the utmost respect — are what matters most to you in life,” he said.
“Finally, even though today is about the graduates, I think we would be remiss if we did not recognize the faculty and staff of Eaton Community Schools for the influence they have had on each of these graduates,” Parker continued. “This year, I know that I owe these teachers, staff, and administrators an even louder, more emphatic expression of appreciation. How this group of people responded to the unprecedented, fluid situation during the last two and a half months is nothing short of awesome. And they forever will have my deepest, professional gratitude. They will know what I mean when I say what I’m about to say: I know we weren’t perfect, but I know we gave it a great run at being perfect. And we were pretty doggone good during the last two and a half months.”
“Eaton graduating class of 2020, your future’s bright, and I am looking forward in future years to seeing and hearing about the mark you leave on the world,” he closed.
“Looking back on my years in the Eaton Community School District, I would have never expected it to end like this,” salutatorian Ashley Earley, and one of the class speakers, said. “In elementary school, I would despise going to school. Middle school was bearable. But Eaton High School has truly touched my heart in a way I never thought possible. The memories I have created alongside my classmates are ones I will never forget. These are memories that we will tell as stories to our children and our future friends. We will look back on these times with warm feelings and happy hearts, even if the ending was not at all what we imagined.
“COVID-19 has changed so much about our senior year, but it’s still our year.”
“We may not be able to gather together today, like we typically would to celebrate each other, but that does not make our accomplishments any less valuable,” she continued. “Being quarantined has made me reflect a lot upon my time at Eaton High School. I’ve learned to be thankful for the time and the opportunities I have received over the past four years.
“It’s so crazy to think that some of us have worked together hand in hand for the past 12 years to get to where we are today,” Earley said. “Whether you started here with us 12 years ago or you’ve joined our path along the way we finished together today. We have not gotten the perfect ending we all had imagined but that does not change the fact that the community, the teachers and the staff, along with each and every one of us have paved the paths to our futures.
“To conclude, I’d like to leave you with this quote by Michael Josephson ‘take pride in how far you’ve come, have faith in how far you can go, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey.’”
Winson Lam, valedictorian, also spoke.
“Ladies and gentlemen. We made it. It wasn’t pretty, but we did it,” he said.
“Before I continue I’d like to take my obligatory moment to thank some people who helped me get here: I would thank my family for giving me a place to stay and food to eat even though I didn’t grow up with them. My friends for giving me an escape from the real world, my counselors for helping me with me with college and scholarships, my therapist for helping me get through the school year, the Risner and Darr families for helping me when my friend passed away.”
“I also want to give thanks to the band, cross country and track teams for being my second family; my coaches for teaching me perseverance; the school staff for helping the school function and finally, but definitely not least, the educators for preparing me for college,” Lam continued. “I couldn’t have done that without everyone who was involved in the making of this moment.”
“Now to my peers — it’s been quite a ride, over a decade’s worth of hard work has accumulated to this point,” Lam said. “I know this isn’t how we wanted to end things, but we must face it as it is. We, as a class, have been through a lot even though we may not remember them.
“We were born into the global war on terrorism after 911.
“We grew up in the great recession of 2008.
“And now we’re graduating in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“We made our way through all this while climate change loomed over head and mass shootings occurred everywhere from Newtown, Connecticut, to Southerland Springs, Texas, to Las Vegas, Nevada. The world is a dark place, but we must stand together and fill the void,” he continued.
“We, and many other across the globe, are the future. We are resilient. We are strong. We won’t let the world change us. We will change the world. The only people that can stop us is ourselves.
“Before I go, I want to leave you with a quote from a controversial historical figure. ‘I believe in only one thing, the power of human will.’ Joseph Stalin said that, and I agree with that statement wholeheartedly — if we put our minds to something nothing can stop us,” Lam closed. “Now let’s show the world what we can do.“
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or follow on Twitter @emowen_RH.