WEST ALEXANDRIA — In a socially-distanced ceremony on May 28, Twin Valley South celebrated the graduation of 67 seniors in the Class of 2020.
The festivities began with a parade procession made up of students and parents in their vehicles which started at the high school and wound through the streets of West Alexandria before returning to the school. Families were encouraged to decorate their vehicles, and many responded with messages to the students, colorful ribbons and pictures of graduates. The parade was accompanied by representatives from the West Alexandria Police Department and Fire Department.
After returning to the school, families were ushered onto the Twin Valley South football field for the ceremony. Families could sit together but were kept at least six feet away from other families, and graduates sat near the stage while maintaining social distancing with their peers.
Senior Class President Claire Fergus welcomed everyone to the graduation ceremony, and after leading everyone in prayer and some opening remarks by Principal Derek Flatter, Fergus took the stage again as one of Twin Valley South’s five valedictorians, all graduating with a 4.0-grade point average during their high school careers.
Fergus began her address by acknowledging the unique circumstances of Twin Valley South’s graduation.
“I’ve looked forward to this day for as long as I can remember,” Fergus said. “Unfortunately, like so many, I was concerned that the Class of 2020 would not have this opportunity. But here we are, certainly with unique circumstances, but nevertheless, I’m honored to give you my valedictorian speech.”
Fergus thanked the school board and the faculty for their dedication to her and Twin Valley South, as well as her grandmother, her sisters, Abby and Emma, and her mom and dad for their support. She finished by encouraging the Class of 2020 to not live in fear as they move forward in their lives.
“We have walked the same path for so many years now, and soon we will all be parting ways,” Fergus said. “And though our time together has come to an end, I hope each of you are able to continue to explore, create and learn without fear. So I’ll leave you with this quote by Dorothy Thompson that says, ‘Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.’ Congratulations, Class of 2020.”
Taylor Bowers took the stage next to give her address as one of Twin Valley South’s valedictorians.
“Class of 2020, thank you for all the memories,” Bowers said. “You guys have made my high school experience one of a kind, and for that I’m forever grateful to each of you. Thank you for the endless amount of laughter and moments I will never forget. My life would be very bland, so thank you for adding the flavor.”
Bowers took time to thank the faculty at Twin Valley South, her parents, grandparents and other family members in addition to coaches that she said helped push her to improve herself. She thanked the Class of 2020 for leaving her with memories that made her high school experience one of a kind and finished with an encouraging message to her peers
“I would like to end with a quote by Les Brown: ‘Life has no limitations, except for the ones you make.’ Class of 2020, never put limitations on yourself, or the things you will achieve as each year capable of accomplishing amazing things,” Bowers said. “The Class of 2020 has exceeded all the limitations. No matter what happens after we each go our separate ways, always believe in yourself. To my fellow classmates, break every limitation you can, and good luck in your future endeavors. Thank you.”
The next valedictorian to take the stage was Alyssa Clark.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to share my utmost gratitude to Twin Valley South, the administrators and all the teachers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing over the last 13 years,” Clark said. “Each of you has made an impact on my life that I will always cherish. To my mom and dad, I thank you for spending countless hours cheering for me in the bleachers of volleyball and basketball games. Picking me up at all hours of the day from school clubs and activities, helping me to choose a career path in nursing at the University of Dayton.”
Clark also took time to thank family members and friends for memories such as late-night talks, movie dates, gift exchanges and laughter. On a more serious note, she then finished her address by drawing comparisons not only to the unique circumstances that they are leaving high school but how they came into the world as well.
“As once said by Albert Camus, ‘Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.’ Class of 2020, none of us have walked in front or behind the other,” Clark said. “We are in a class that stands united. Together we enter the world during the crisis of 9/11 and now we enter adulthood in new beginnings together during a pandemic. Not even the coronavirus can stop us from being the Class of 2020.”
Logan Ulrich stepped up to the podium next as one of Twin Valley South’s valedictorians and delivered a speech about the impact of the education he and his peers received during their time at Twin Valley South.
“Today is a great day to be thankful. Twin Valley South High School has provided my fellow classmates and me with the education skills we need to be successful later in life,” Ulrich said. “We will be prepared to take on any challenge that may come our way. Through this pandemic, it did not in the way we wanted it to, but it was a lengthy 13 years and we made it.
“We have been fortunate as students at Twin Valley South. We’ve had so many great instructors and administrators. They’ve allowed us to achieve a high degree of academic excellence. Even if you don’t continue your academic journey, we can still benefit from the lessons we’ve learned here,” Ulrich said. “My fellow classmates, it’s been a meaningful journey. We should be thankful for the friendship we have made here that will last a lifetime. We will continue to support each other for many years to come just as we did at Twin Valley South. Now, I know I felt like we were cut off short, but we should cherish the memories we had when we were freshmen, sophomores and juniors.”
Ulrich cited specific memories such as making pancakes and throwing around a “tape ball” in classrooms. He closed his speech by imparting wisdom about the meaning of a valedictorian.
“In Latin, valedictorian derives from the phrase, ‘to say farewell.’ I know this is not the farewell that many of us wanted, but when we leave here today we should celebrate what we accomplished in the past and look ahead to the future,” Ulrich said. “We need to stay true to our values and continue to be an inspiration for others. Congratulations Class of 2020.”
To close out the festivities before the presentation of scholarships and diplomas, Zoe Utsinger took the stage as Twin Valley South’s last valedictorian.
“We have watched as classes before us have joyously celebrated this moment. It all seems so surreal but now it is our turn,” Utsinger said. “We have marked our calendars and counted down the days anxiously awaiting this day and now that it’s here, I’m sorry to say it is, for that means leaving behind a school that has offered so much to me.”
Utsinger took the opportunity to thank her parents and grandparents for their unwavering support over the years,
“I know none of us envisioned this is how our senior year would end,” Utsinger said. “We were all unfairly robbed of our final chances to participate in many events. But, when faced with troubling times, we still stand here today strong and resilient. The future may be uncertain, but that doesn’t matter. Each and every one of us is equipped to tackle what the world may throw our way. I want to end with this note. Do not let fear own you. Embrace the unknown, for that is how you grow as an individual. With that being said, I have no doubt that every one of us is destined to do great things. Congrats and good luck Class of 2020.”
Despite five valedictorians who had different paths and motivations throughout school, the uniting message was clear during their respective addresses to their peers; despite the outside circumstances that led to their senior years being finished at home and a social-distanced graduation ceremony, they should not let these factors take away from the hard work and accomplishments that led to them walking across the stage and receiving their diplomas.
“Finally, I’d like to congratulate my fellow classmates as we close this major chapter in our lives,” Fergus said in closing during her speech. “While graduation might be a bit unconventional, it does not diminish the accomplishment of our graduation.”
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @BradenMoles