Last Thursday the Highland Central School District honored the Class of 2020 with near traditional graduation ceremonies that were held outdoors on the school’s football field. The district hosted three consecutive commencement exercises, with graduates sitting with their families properly distanced as per state protocols due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The ceremonies were live streamed for family and friends who were unable to attend.
High School Principal William Zimmer welcomed everyone to the ceremony, which opened with the National Anthem that was pre-recorded and performed by Highland k-12 music teachers.
“Today is a celebration of the accomplishments of 128 amazing individuals. Class of 2020 you have provided each one of us with memories that we will carry throughout our lives,” he said. “Graduation is a time to reminisce about the past yet at the same time to gaze into the future. We recognize past achievements and look ahead to new opportunities. I wish you well in your future endeavors and please know that you will be missed.” Zimmer concluded his speech with a quote from former President Barack Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones that we have been waiting for, we are the change that we seek.”
Zimmer introduced Salutatorian Minh Tran. In the fall he will be attending the College of New Jersey, pursuing his undergraduate degree with a major in Biology and a minor in Music. He will also be seeking a Masters Degree in Public Health, and then will attend Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Afterwards he will become a radiologist or an oncologist.
Tran spoke of the last half of senior year. He said many thought nothing of the enforced break. The weeks turned into months and soon it was the last day of school. Looking back Tran said one word popped into his mind; gratitude.
“After we’ve gone through an experience where we’ve had so much taken away, I’m grateful and thankful for the memories we do have,” he said.
Tran took a moment to honor his parents who came from Vietnam, “with little money or knowledge of English and they became two of the most successful people I’ve ever known in my life and they gave me a great life full of opportunity.”
Tran said, “We will reach our goals with enough hard work even if we don’t know quite what we’re doing yet or how we’ll quite get there...Our clear vision is that through perseverance, resilience and creativity we will achieve our goals no matter what obstacles are thrown in our way.”
Tran said it was a school custodian who once told him on a day when he was feeling low, that there are no bad days, only bad moments.
“So go on and keep your goals close, keep the people and things you love closer. I can’t wait to see all the great things we do [and] all the ways we’ll make the world a better place,” he concluded.
Principal Zimmer introduced Valedictorian Ishani Bansal. She will be attending SUNY Stony Brook University majoring in bio-medical engineering with a pre-med track in the WISE honors program [Women In Science and Engineering]. She will later continue her education in medical school to become a Doctor.
Bansal said 1,408 days have past since her class, “jumped into the magical, mystical world of high school, doe-eyed and ready for the last chapter before the rest of our lives.”
Bansal noted that the last 75 days were interrupted by a pandemic but, “our legacy is what we make of everything that has been thrown our way. 2020 has woken us up to taking care of our bodies, standing up for what we believe in and evaluating where our values lie... Let’s shower ourselves with love, take accountability and responsibility for our actions, educate ourselves and strive for growth. Let’s live every day with value because the one thing 2020 has taught us is how precious every breath is; let us not go back to sleep. We’re fighters, Class of 2020, we always have been. I am proud of our compassion and of our success and although we thought 2020 was the end of the world multiple times throughout the year, it isn’t, it’s the beginning of a new one and we are that beginning. Congratulations, we did it.”
Superintendent Thomas Bongiovi acknowledged that 2020 was not what everyone was expecting.
“When faced with difficult times it’s important to take what you were given and turn it into something positive,” he said. “In your garden of life here is what I suggest you plant; plant three rows of peas; peace of mind, peace of heart and peace of soul. Plant three rows of squash; squash gossip, squash indifference and squash hatred. Plant three rows of lettuce; let us be kind, let us be patient and let us love one another. Plant three rows of turnips; turn up for meetings, turn up for service and turn up for one another. And no garden is complete without thyme so plant three rows of thyme; time for family, time for friends and time to help change the world. Water your garden with patience and love and you will have a great bounty because in life you reap what you sow.”
Zimmer introduced the 2020 Commencement speaker, Joakim Lartey. He is the Coordinator of Supportive Learning Environments at Ulster BOCES, a musician, storyteller, and is often referred to as ‘Everybody’s Uncle.’ He was guest speaker for their 8th grade moving up ceremony,
“Sometimes this feels like a four year race, for some of you it was a sprint and for some of you maybe it was a marathon. However you did it, you are all about to break the tape, pick up that diploma and walk across that stage. You are leaving here skilled in the art of writing, adding, figuring things out, collaborating, researching, and just being good people in the world. If there was ever a group of people that was ready for the world it would be you; the world needs you to heal, the world needs you for action and the world needs you for truth... Go into the world and do good things.”
Before awarding the diplomas Principal Zimmer acknowledged the top ten students of the Class of 2020 for their academic achievements: Quinn Schneider, Zoe Munson, Ava Rosen, Isabela Cuya, Benjamin Vargas, Isabella Fiorese, Emily Ramsay, Eileen Dong, Minh Tran and Ishani Bansal.
After the presentation of diplomas Zimmer presented the Class of 2020 to Superintendent Bongiovi and the Board of Education. Students were then instructed to move the tassels on their caps from right to left, signifying their new status as graduates of Highland High School, Class of 2020.