CAMDEN — A backdrop of woods and forest area behind Preble Shawnee’s football field set the scene for Preble Shawnee’s commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 on Friday, June 12, which took place on the Arrows’ football field.
The ceremony saw the graduation of 114 students from Preble Shawnee with $1,182,764 in scholarship money awarded to the Class of 2020.
The first speaker of the evening was 2020 Class Speaker Cassidy Cook.
Cook began her address to her classmates by thanking her friends and family as well as the Preble Shawnee administration for helping students on their journey to graduation.
“These past few months have been filled with change, uncertainty and heartache, and you’ve shown the world that it’s not always about us even though, it was supposed to be our year, but you all did not lose hope,” Cook said. “You moved mountains. I would say to you all tonight is to rise up but this Preble Shawnee class of 2020 has already risen above this storm and despite all of the odds we are finally here tonight for the moment that we all deserve, and showing we have the best story to tell, and finally saying our goodbyes.”
She then spoke about the combined strength of the Class of 2020 with everything they have been forced to deal with as students.
“You could describe this class in so many ways: unique, diverse, but the one word that comes to mind is that this class is strong and can overcome anything that life might throw at us. As we are here tonight together celebrating our journeys,” Cook said. “I hope we don’t forget our friend, and classmate Wyatt Clevenger and to hold him in our hearts as we journey on. As it may seem we have been through the hardest, and worst times, this class has so many good memories, and great times to look back on — times in the classroom with our favorite teachers, for some of us we will remember the laughs and conversations we had in room 119, the times we had in target time and well for a few of us having the best target time team, aka the A-team, the homecomings, prom, the Friday nights under the lights listening to the best band, and watching the the greatest team, the moments with our friends, and making friendships that will last a lifetime and so much more. We have learned so much — to live every moment to the fullest, and to never take a day for granted.”
Cook finished her speech with a lasting message to her peers in the Class of 2020.
“Today we say goodbye to this chapter in our life, but saying goodbye to Preble Shawnee and this district is just not possible,” Cook said. “This school, these memories and the people in this community will always be a part of us. Once an Arrow, always an Arrow.”
The next speaker was one of Preble Shawnee’s four valedictorians, Vanessa Mann.
“Good evening, thank you for joining us in this celebration. I would like to begin by thanking some of the people who have made this possible for me. Thank you to my family for always supporting my dedication to academia and to my friends for showing me good times, no matter what I was stressed about,” Mann said. “Even though I am the “Mom Friend” of the group, you still gave me unforgettable memories that I’ll always cherish. Thank you to my teachers for devoting yourselves to my education and that of every single one of your students. Your endeavors to make us better students and better people do not go unnoticed. Lastly, thank you to the school administration for your loyalty to public education. This is not only my accomplishment, it belongs to all of you as well.”
Mann then spoke about the journey that has led the Class of 2020 to Friday’s graduation and how they’ll need to continue to grow and evolve as they face new challenges after graduation.
“Congratulations Class of 2020! Our time is up, and now it’s our turn to influence the world however we choose. I have been with most of these people for 13 years, and each passing grade level meant one thing: we were one year closer to senior year,” Mann said. “This meant being the “big kids,” walking the high school hallways in confidence, and freedom. Senior year seemed like the end of a long journey; the culmination of everything we’ve ever known. And that’s exactly what it was; it was the end of this journey. New challenges await us, new relationships are ahead of us. Here we are excited, scared, emotional, and hopeful. Do not let these emotions hinder your courage and tenacity, instead let them encourage you to push yourself to achieve your own version of success. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because you inevitably will. We will all make mistakes, but they only become failures if you let them defeat you. So I ask my fellow graduates to resist the urge to accept defeat; instead, learn from these mistakes. Grow, evolve, thrive; be the best version of yourself you can be, and influence others to do the same. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’”
Mann spoke of the various highs in school, like a game-winning buzzer beater or placing first in a competition for the first time and the lows like failing a test, and how those moments are what make high school exciting, spirited and passionate.
In closing, she encouraged her classmates to not take those moments for granted.
“No matter what path you are taking, do not take the little things for granted. You never know when there will be a global pandemic and you will be quarantined to your homes. When your lives have normalized again and you have the freedom to stand less than six feet away from people, do not surrender to the consistency of everyday life. In order to stay organized we often form daily routines or patterns, but do not let this normalcy dull your perspective on life,” Mann said. “Instead, let this experience teach you, as it has taught me and my classmates, to immerse yourself in everyday encounters rather than coasting through life. As said by author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer, ‘Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed.’ Finally, I would like to once again congratulate this accomplished group of people that I have had the honor of growing up with. Cherish the memories we’ve made together, but never stop making new ones.”
Stephanie Howard, another valedictorian for the Arrows, then took the stage for the opportunity to speak about the circumstances in which the Class of 2020 is graduating.
“The class of 2020 has had it rough to say the least. We were brought into this world with the horrific events of 9/11, and will be graduating with a worldwide pandemic. We lost prom, a normal graduation, sports, our final goodbyes, and so much more. We understand our shortened senior year is not the end of the world, but we were not ready to say goodbye so soon. We always say we are tired of school. We beg for snow days, hope for early dismissals and count the days until the weekend, but now that this chapter of our lives is over we realize all the things we’ve taken for granted. All the life lessons from Mr. Eicklberger, the “Reading Fridays” from Mr. Hilton, Mrs. Montgomery’s Texas smiles and walking to class with our friends. This teaches us a valuable lesson to never take things for granted and always live in the moment. Life is unpredictable and exciting. We should stop stressing about the little things and appreciate what we have. In the words of Bernard Kelvin Clive, ‘just take time to stop and smell the roses, enjoy those little things about your life, your family, spouse, friends.and your job. Forget about the thorns — the pains and problems they cause you — and enjoy life.’”
Howard looked back on the various accomplishments from the Class of 2020 during their senior year.
“Although this year did not go as planned, the Class of 2020 accomplished great things during our shortened year. Our class has not one, but four valedictorians. Our cheerleading squad placed 11th at nationals. Volleyball, girls soccer, boys soccer, and girls tennis finished runner-ups in the SWBL, and winter drum line finished first in one of their competitions. These are only a few of the accomplishments our class can be known for. The Class of 2020 will never be forgotten,” Howard said. “We will be in the history books of our future generations and we will be known for our strength. Whether you plan to attend college, go into the workforce, or join the military, remember to always be yourself, be kind, and appreciate the little things. There will never be anything quite like high school, but that is okay; we are onto bigger and better things.”
She ended her speech by thanking her teachers, friends, family and the Preble Shawnee administration for their dedication to athletics.
”All the long hours grading and hard days of teaching did not go unnoticed. We will forever be grateful for all you guys did for us,” Howard said. “I would also like to thank the Class of 2020 for all the laughs, smiles, and countless memories. High School would not have been the same without each and every one of you. Thank you for helping me become the person I am today. I wish you guys the best of luck in your future endeavors. Never give up and always believe in yourself. You are capable of more than you know.”
Howard also took time to acknowledge Wyatt Clevenger, a student in Preble Shawnee’s Class of 2020 who passed away after a car accident in 2018.
“Finally, I would like to thank Wyatt for watching over us and always teaching us to be kind,” Howard said. “Your smiles, laughs, and bad handwriting will never be forgotten. You are always with us and in our hearts. In the words of Walt Disney, ‘Goodbye may seem forever. Farewell is like the end, but in my heart is the memory and there you will always be.’”
Alexa Garnett, another of Preble Shawnee’s valedictorians, spoke next to the audience scattered throughout the bleachers and in lawn chairs on the football field.
“Good evening fellow classmates, school faculty, family and friends. To begin this speech, I have a few people to thank. First, I have to thank God. He has gifted me with so many talents, so many friends, and has comforted me through my entire life. Next, I have to thank my mom, my dad, and my brother. Each of you plays a role in my life that is unmatched. Each of you along with the rest of our family have constantly pushed me and have shaped me into who I am today,” Garnett said. “I am grateful to have a family that always reminds me how loved I am and how proud you are of me. In this group to thank, I cannot leave out all of my friends, and especially my best friend, Cass. I do not think I would have survived high school without you and I will forever cherish all of our unforgettable moments.”
Garnett, a softball player for the Arrows, relayed a personal story about her experience at a three-day World Series tournament in Columbus in which she struggled on the mound.
“We are going to go ahead and skip to the part where we finish our two games and head back to the hotel. We get to the hotel and unload all of our things, and take some showers. My dad and I decided we were starving and made sure to find a Raising Canes. Of course, with my supreme Google skills, I found one and we were on our way,” Garnett said. “On our way back, we passed a little ball field that was right down the road from our hotel. We get back to the hotel and we skip the pool, and I make my dad head back to that ball field. We got there and we worked on hitting soft toss until it got dark. I made sure I could not get it wrong after losing hope from the games that day.
“We only have one game. I began warming up to pitch and I was thinking this is not good. Everything in warm-ups seemed to be repeating from yesterday’s disaster. The game starts, and guess who is pitching? This girl. So the game goes on and let me tell you everything was absolutely perfect. My pitching was unstoppable and my hitting was flawless, with a double and a hard hit single. Finally, my last at bat comes and this is the best part. I load my hips back and take my hands straight to the ball, and the feeling of that ball coming off my bat was remarkable. I round first, and I hear my Coach Rodney say, ‘Oh!’ I had just hit my first home run at the World Series.”
Garnett then compared the experiences of the Class of 2020 to her struggles playing softball. Though nothing seemed to have gone right, their time would eventually come and they would finally hit that home run.
“I heard on the radio the other day someone quote that, ‘there is no doubt that we are going to change the world because we are already making history.’ We, the graduating Class of 2020, have already made history. With that, I encourage you to embrace this statement,” Garnett said. “Go out into this world and hit your home run, work to succeed in everything you do, and make the year of 2020 one to encourage you to continue to move forward. Our game, like our life, is not over yet. I cannot wait to see every single one of you accomplish everything you put your mind to.”
Pierce Elliot, the final valedictorian for the Class of 2020, took the stage next.
“Good evening everyone, I hope you all have stayed happy and healthy during the past few months,” Elliot began. “I know this has been a strenuous time for everyone, and I know many of us had feared that we would have nothing resembling the idealistic graduation. I want to sincerely offer my thanks to the administration from the entire senior class for making this graduation a reality. Along with this, I want to thank all of our teachers for working with us during the last few months, making it possible for us to finish our education.”
Elliot spoke about how the work that students put in to graduate should not be understated by unusual ending to their senior years.
“This moment has been 13 years in the making. Thirteen long, but incredibly short years. That is the funny thing about time, the present seems to be unending, but when we look at the past, it seems remarkably short. It feels like it was only last month that we were walking into kindergarten class for the first time. Last week that we began 4th grade at West Elkton Intermediate. And just yesterday that we started high school,” Elliot said. “All of us, every single graduate before you today, have been working towards this moment for the majority of our lives. We have each had our own experiences, whether it be the realization of future dreams, or the blood, sweat, and tears poured into our favorite sport, club, or other extracurricular activity. We have spent countless hours on school work, experienced a multitude of school events, and maybe even bombed a test or two. We have formed friendships and seen way too much drama. And every year we have watched as the senior class goes up onto the stage, takes their diploma, and graduates. This isn’t the senior year that we expected. But that doesn’t change how awesome we are.”
Before diplomas were handed out and the tassels were turned, signifying the shift from student to graduate, Elliot ended his speech with a hopeful message to the Class of 2020 for their future.
“We are the Class of 2020. We persevered and finished our high school careers during a pandemic, who else can say that? We will succeed, because we are strong. Fellow graduates, as we transition to the next phase of our lives, I want you to go out into this world running. I want you to be fearless, passionate, and determined. I want you to be knowledgeable, wise, and kind. I want you to prosper, succeed, and celebrate. I want you to be these things because, despite the cliche, we are quite literally the future,” Elliot said. “And we, the Class of 2020, are just getting started.”
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @BradenMoles