If Tunkhannock Area High School seniors learned anything this year, it was how to pivot.
Last fall, no student in the class of 2020 could have predicted culminating their high school career in separate graduation ceremonies six feet apart from their classmates to comply with guidelines related to a global health pandemic.
“2020 is a metaphor for perfect vision,” Superintendent Heather McPherson told graduates on Friday. “Ironic then, for the class of 2020 to culminate their senior year so differently than what you had envisioned.”
Tunkhannock Area School District divided its 173 graduates into three identical ceremonies at its stadium with a limited audience and a livestream available for those who couldn’t attend.
Each graduate received a compass to help them navigate future curve balls in their lives.
In her address, McPherson explained how the COVID-19 pandemic led everyone at TASD to pivot into the challenge of educating students from a distance.
“Challenges are opportunities. We just have to be brave enough and mentally agile enough to pivot, to change direction,” she said. “Whatever your vision, class of 2020, there will be points in your life where it will be necessary to pivot. It may be from a job, or from a relationship, or it may be that you have the chance to pivot into wonderful opportunities that will change and expand your thinking and beliefs.”
While graduation looked different this year, it was traditional overall, with Tunkhannock giving grads a measure of similarity with the 135 commencements before it.
Elizabeth DeMarco, who is heading to college on a Navy ROTC scholarship, recognized her peers entering the military before leading the Pledge of Allegiance. This includes Coty Ely, Marines; Logan Hutchins, Air Force; Kailyn Smith, The Citadel; and Kyle Stackhouse, Navy ROTC.
In his remarks, Class of 2020 President Isaac Clark focused on a topic he rarely hears much about: curiosity and the power of asking “why?”
“Why do we never talk about curiosity, especially if curiosity is the very driving force behind the most intellectual and innovative minds of human history?” he said.
Curiosity dominates everyone’s childhood, he said, yet people lose sight of it somewhere along the way into adulthood.
“I know that this class has never been a class that has been marked by complacency,” he said.
Clark asked his peers to lean into curiosity and join the movers and shakers throughout history.
“Now, it is our turn. Class of 2020, I ask you, why wait?” Clark said.
Salutatorian Thomas Elias reminded his classmates how fortunate they were to receive more than academic instruction in the classroom, highlighting lessons from teachers in a variety of subjects.
In Mr. Neely’s physics class, for example, he said students learned how to turn failure into an opportunity for greater success.
“If you tell Mr. Neely that you measured in feet as opposed to meters or used the wrong materials for your lab, he will stifle a laugh, look you in the eye, and say, ‘You win!… the chance to start over,’” Elias recalled.
Elias told his peers that high school graduation isn’t the finish line.
“To be honest, it seems a bit overwhelming, but this is where the fun begins,” he said. “Just as we have prepared ourselves, we have also been prepared: prepared to be confident and prepared to be nervous, prepared to try new things and prepared to struggle, prepared to chase our ambitions and prepared to feel lost. We have what we need, but now it’s time to do something with it.”
Valedictorian Rani Shrivastava shared how a change in attitude impacted her life. This year, her peers may have noticed her making the best of her free time and not focusing on schoolwork as much, but this doesn’t describe her 13 years in TASD as a whole.
Since grade school, she has stressed over everything academic. This only progressed in high school, where she buckled down to the point of having little free time.
Eventually, she adopted phrases like, “That’s a tomorrow morning problem,” and, “It’s fine.” This new mentality made her fall in love with learning again and allowed her to make the most of her final days at TAHS. She still worked for success, but didn’t let stress dominate her life.
“I don’t want to seem like senior year was a cakewalk for me,” she said. “I’ve mentally matured with how I deal with stress. I continued to work hard behind the scenes to keep my aspirations in mind.”
Shrivastava concluded that while she missed out on some high school experiences, she wouldn’t change a thing because sometimes you need to make sacrifices for success.
“If there is anyone who has big dreams, learn from me and know you are capable of achieving your goals when you put the work in,” she said. “Always believe in yourself and you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
Students chose English teacher Ellyn Harvey as their keynote speaker, who summed up how to live a successful life in three clichés. While she finds clichés trite, she believes they survive because of the inspiration they offer.
No. 1: While it’s surely a necessity, money doesn’t buy happiness.
No. 2: Be true to yourself.
No. 3: Life isn’t always easy.
“The moments of darkness that invade all of our lives at some point will allow us the privilege to see the stars, to see the good, to see the possibilities,” she said. “Never look away from the dark. Instead, look through the dark and see what you can find.”
With that, she congratulated the class of 2020 and encouraged them to “take on the world.”
“Remember that Tunkhannock Area High School will always be a part of your home, and we will always be a part of your family,” Harvey said.
At the end of a long day before giving the last group of graduates the right to move their tassels, Principal Todd Bosscher gave a shout out to Shrivastava, Elias, Clark, Harvey and McPherson for being the first group of primary speakers at a Tunkhannock commencement to deliver their addresses three times.
“They really nailed it each time,” he said.