JHS Holds Diploma Ceremony At Strider Field
Dana Williams knows that Thursday’s diploma ceremony for the Jamestown High School Class of 2020 might not have come in a way they could have envisioned in September.
He knows that it comes without the standard traditions of a Baccalaureate the night prior and with students crossing a stage at Strider Field rather than the hallowed stage of the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater.
But, in addressing the class via a virtual ceremony aired Wednesday on the school district’s website, Williams helped cap the end of a school year he called the “most unique, challenging and often difficult” of his career by imploring students that nothing — not even a global pandemic — can take away what they have achieved.
“It wouldn’t have changed the fact that the very next day, like every other graduate across the country, this chapter in your life has ended and now it’s time to move on with your life,” the JHS interim principal, who replaced Dr. Rosemary Bradley in December, told graduates. “Your life is going to be defined by how you navigate the difficult times. Anyone can do well when things are going your way.”
Dr. Bret Apthorpe, the district’s retiring superintendent, likened the class’s resiliency to the challenging expedition of Lewis and Clark across the United States.
“This event that has so disrupted your senior year has placed you in a situation that you have had to go suddenly against the current to your graduation,” Apthorpe said. “I encourage you to reflect on your senior year as there will be, many times in life, that you will feel like you’re working against the current, going against the stream. And when that happens, I want you to reflect back on your senior year at this particular moment in time, get out your mental poles and start pulling yourself against the current.”
Ayah Qadri, class salutatorian, emphasized that the nature of this school year — cut short due to the outbreak of COVID-19 — has taught her to be grateful.
“This situation has taught us that there is always something to be grateful for, even if we don’t notice it,” she told the class. “We should think about what we do have rather than what we’re missing out on. My point is, we have to find the good in what we have, even if we are struggling.”
Abigail Beach, valedictorian, agreed, telling her classmates that dreams of this celebration distracted her from appreciating the day-to-day of high school — a distraction she didn’t realize until that norm was taken away.
“I wished my days of schooling away, yearning for what I thought were bigger and better things,” said Beach. “I was so focused on what I could soon have that I missed what I already did have right in front of me. So, while I implore you all to look toward the future and excitedly anticipate what may lie ahead, I would remind you to appreciate exactly where you are right now.”
She added, “I’m so grateful to have learned this lesson while I am young while I still have my life ahead of me, because a lesson learned should be a lesson shared. Stop waiting for your Godot. Stop waiting for that perfect moment to come. You could be left instead to toil your life away when you could be doing something remarkable.”
Karley Kennedy and Courtney Grey, class secretaries, meanwhile paid tribute to parents, tasked with providing levels of support rarely needed before.
“Tonight, on behalf of our classmates, we would like to thank all of you for helping us to reach this goal, a goal we have been waiting for and working toward our e tire lives,” Kennedy said.
“You’ve seen us in moments of triumph and also moments of hardship and you’ve been with us in the passenger seat for all the bumps in the road that have come our way, especially these last few months,” Grey said. “And, although our senior year came to an end in a way we never would have expected, your love never relented, your support never wavered and you are the reason we are still pushing through.”
Courtney Graham and Alyssa Holdridge, class historians, reflected on the changes the students had seen in four years.
“As young, impressionable, incoming freshmen, we had no clue what the next four years would have in store for us,” Graham said. “From learning to navigate the school to only raising about $100 dollars for Battle (of the Classes), it’s safe to say we learned.”
“Our class found our voice and stuck up for what we believed in for only a few months later to be told that we’d finish our senior year online,” added Holdridge. “Through a new principal, a pandemic and everything else happening in the world, us, the JHS Class of 2020 is here walking the stage.”
Bobbi Jo Gibbons and Aaron Jessey, class advisers, paid tribute to that ability to push through in their farewell to the class.
“When you graduate tonight, you are now a true member of this ‘Raider Pride Family’ that has been in place for over a century,” Gibbons said. “And, when you receive your Jamestown Public Schools diploma, see this diploma as an induction to the ‘Raider Family’ forever.”
“As you start your journey, we ask that you add a new mantra to your ‘Raider Pride.’ We want you to add ‘Raider Strong,'” added Jessey. “‘Raider Strong’ signifies the strength you have shown in adversity your senior year has presented by combining your ‘Raider Pride’ and your ‘Raider Strength,’ you will be that person that everyone leans on in times of crisis because you did something that classes before you were not able to do which is persevere in an unprecedented time period.”
David Hinson, a 1994 JHS graduate who now serves as a southeast area scout for the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, echoed previous sentiments by noting that the adversity the class has faced will only benefit them in the long run.
“When the bad times come, you’ll be able to push through because you know you can get to the other side,” he said. “You guys are the next generation and I think you’ll be outstanding and great and do great things, but I want you to know is that all people want love, respect and happiness. If you guys as a generation can do a great job of listening — I mean really, really listening — this will open the lines of communication and you guys will have the country and the world that you want.”
He added, “Go out there and win your Super Bowl.”