COLORADO SPRINGS. Very little about graduation for the St. Mary’s High School class of 2020 was what they had imagined it would be. However, in her valedictorian speech Katie Morales said the class has always considered itself to be special, so it was only fitting that the class go out in a special way.
Graduation was held almost a month later than planned, exactly three months to the day after St. Mary’s announced it would be moving to distance learning as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country. For some of the seniors, graduation day was the first day they had seen each other since mid-March. The event, usually held at one of the local Catholic churches in conjunction with a baccalaureate Mass, was instead held on the football field at The Grace Center for Community Service and Athletics. The seniors’ chairs were spaced six-feet apart, masks were worn during the marches in and out, and diplomas were picked up by the seniors from a table, instead of being handed to them by the principal and president of the school.
Morales’s speech centered on how high school, classmates, and even the last two months of their senior year have shaped the class of 2020 into the young adults they have become. Morales said at times she would like to pretend that the last two months of her senior year had not happened the way that they did. While the experiences of the last two months have contributed to molding the class of 2020, she said each senior has the power to choose how the situation changes them.
“I once heard someone say that when you miss something, you know that you have been blessed with a wonderful gift,” she said. “On behalf of my entire class, I think I can say that we did not realize how much we loved going to school everyday until we were no longer able to go. We missed the little moments. I hope that these last few months serve as a reminder for the rest of our lives to always enjoy life, live in the moment, and never take any opportunities for granted.”
The St. Mary’s class of 2020 missed out on most of the seniors’ special events including their retreat, campout, prom, senior breakfast, and baccalaureate Mass. Morales admitted that it has been hard to not be disappointed about those losses, but reminded her classmates that high school is made up of four years, not just two months. She encouraged her classmates to focus on the great relationships and memories that were created since their freshman year and never let the disappointments of life define them.
St. Mary’s alumni Cameron Hickert, class of 2012, returned as the commencement speaker for the class of 2020. He admitted that the excitement of graduation is partly about being free from the rituals that are established for students during their school years. However, Hickert said one thing he has learned about rituals since graduating is that they help us remember what we choose to remember.
“What we remember drives the things we think about, and what we think about them,” Hickert said. “Even our own ‘personal narratives’ that we tell ourselves, as well as the world, rest in large part on what we chose to remember about our attributes, defining moments, relationships, etcetera.”
Hickert encouraged the seniors to find rituals that prioritize the things that are important to them, whether it be calling a friend or practicing a new language.
Most of the 67 graduates in the class of 2020, which earned more than $13 million in college merit scholarships, will continue their educational journey in the fall, attending universities across the country. Some have elected to take a gap year in light of the current world circumstances or enter the military. As they enter those next stages of life, Morales encouraged them to remember that life isn’t about the destination, but the journey.
“We are designated by so much more than one set of circumstances or one decision,” Morales said. “We are in control of the people we become and the journeys that we travel.”
(Amy G. Partain is director of communications for St. Mary’s High School.)