After months of change and uncertainty, the Denison High School Class of 2020 had its day Saturday with a commencement ceremony held at Munson Stadium. The event had been delayed several weeks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For this year’s commencement, the Denison Independent School District chose to forego the traditional procession and instead began with the class already seated on the field at Munson Stadium. Both on the field and in the bleachers, students and families were separated as a precaution due to the pandemic.
“From the time we were born in 2001 and 2002, in the midst of the tragedy of 9/11 and starting kindergarten in August 2007, to finishing out our senior year of school with nine weeks of quarantine, we had to overcome a lot of adversity to get here,” DHS Class President Hailey Blasingame said. “But given the class that we are, I had no doubt we would be sitting here tonight.”
Saturday’s festivities included speeches by the class president, salutatorian and valedictorian and commencement address by Ross Stoddard of the class of 1968.
Salutatorian Joseph Mallillin noted that the commencement was a first in many ways for Denison. In order to keep crowd low, the district live streamed to entire event to viewers on the internet.
“Can we just all think about that for a second,” he said. “Now I can go back and relive this moment. You don’t have a mom’s shaky video shot on her iPhone with her screaming in the background.
“The past few months have brought a multitude of changes to the status quo of our world and the class of 2020 has had to roll with the punches.”
Mallillin thanked the people who helped him and all of his classmates reach graduation and the next step of their lives. Over the course of the last 13 years, countless people have played a part in reaching that goal.
“Now to address the elephant in the room, and why we are all sitting six feet apart,” he said. “The past few months have brought about a lot of change that none of us we expecting and stole the senior year we’ve been dreaming about and working toward for the past 13 years. Despite it all, however, it has given me the opportunity to look back at my time at DHS and what my take away was.“
For Mallillin, the greatest take away for the year was a need for balance.
“When I first got to high school I wanted to do it all,” he said, referring to sports, clubs and other activities. ”For a while it was working pretty well.“
However, this was sidelined by a broken arm that limited what he could do. From this, he said he learned to appreciate each experience; something that is difficult to do when you try to fit so much into each day.
Valedictorian Jacquelynn Matthews compared her life to a a tree that was planted by her grandparents when she was born. Much like the tree, she and her classmates need to focus on personal growth and reaching out to the things and people in life that will reinforce that.
“We need to live by the principles of a growth mindset by going the extra degree,” she said.
While everyone was dressed for the occassion in their cap and gown, Reece King continued to wear school colors. The graduating senior was dressed in a custom-made tie featuring Denison’s colors and the yellowjacket mascot.
They last few months have been difficult for King, in part due to the change over to online learning and curriculum. At times, it would be difficult to get in touch with teachers using the online courses.
However, it was this adversity that made the day all the sweeter.
“I would turn things in and think about this day,” he said. “Now in the future I can look back and think that I did this and be proud of myself.”
King says he plans to start attending courses at Grayson College in order to get his basics. He is still deciding what will be the next step after that.
For his address, Stoddard also focused on the people that helped the 2020 class reach graduation. Many people, including parents and teachers, helped the students along the road, but the entire community played its part by helping provide a free education, he said.
“Nobody is going to ask you to pay that back, but you do have the opportunity and obligation to pay it forward,” he said.
Stoddard called for the 2020 to use this education to develop and hone their own individual talents, which they can then use to help the next generation achieve the same success.
Despite the setback that this generation has faced, Stoddard said they are uniquely gifted by this adversity. By facing opposition and hurdles early, this class will be prepared for it when they face it later in life.
“Maybe there is a silver lining to that,” he said. “Maybe there is a silver lining because you have experienced something most people don’t experience until much later in life: that left hook, that pulling that rug out from under you and what you expected to have happen.”
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.