by KATE SHUNNEY
Rain moved out of the area well in time to let the Paw Paw High School Class of 2020 finally gather together for a graduation ceremony on Friday night.
A dozen of the class’s 14 graduates were seated, spaced apart, at the edge of the school’s front loop on July 31 as the sun dropped in the sky. Families of the graduates were set up on marked X’s, meant to maintain distance between the groups, in the grass at the front of the school.
Principal Melinda Kasekamp welcomed the families and graduates, acknowledging they missed a lot during the two and a half months schools were closed in the spring.
“Unlike other classes, you had an authentic private graduation,” Kasekamp said. In place of the usual group ceremony, families and graduates had individual diploma ceremonies in late spring.
“As you look back over the years, I hope you have fond memories,” said Kasekamp.
In her speech, Class of 2020 Valedictorian Haley Abrell returned to theme of the grads’ historic last year.
“This is not how I planned for this to happen,” said Abrell.
She thanked her family, school staff and friends for their help and support along her educational journey. Abrell singled out her two grandmothers – Kathy Abrell and the late Vickie Sirbaugh – as inspirations.
Walking the audience through memories of the Class of 2020, from kindergarten through high school, Abrell said her class had seen some tough times.
“Here’s to our senior year – the year we didn’t get to complete,” she said.
“I didn’t think about the little things I’d miss,” Abrell said of the abrupt end to their senior year as schools closed in March. “I’m going to miss it.”
Because of their shared struggles, her class is special, Abrell said.
“The Class of 2020 is strong. I believe we can do anything we set our minds to,” she said.
Co-Salutatorian Logan King painted a picture of a class of strong individual personalities.
“I never believe we clicked together into one cohesive group,” King said.
King called the class “fortunately unfortunate,” and said their experience together was formative.
“There’s more to our story than a pandemic,” said King, recalling a school fire, the comings and goings of school staff and sports championships.
“At this point, we’ve moved past high school and are preparing for the next stage in life,” King said.
He urged students to make times for their friends and families and to share their stories so people can learn from them.
“Always be receptive to new information and perspectives,” King said.
Co-Salutatorian Coby Ridgeway told graduates and families that the COVID-19 pandemic had turned things upside down for his class, starting with the school closure in March.
“I left, telling my classmates I’d see them in a week or two. Boy, were we wrong,” Ridgeway said.
He said they missed their final season on the baseball field as Pirates, and many other moments.
Ridgeway singled out his teachers for praise, for the help and direction they offered.
“I value very much the education I received at Paw Paw High School,” he said.
Ridgeway said one of the things he appreciated most about attending a small school was the bond with other students.
“Even if we’re not the best of friends, we’ll always be brothers and sisters,” he said.
Ridgeway closed with something his father told him on a mountain in Colorado.
“Sometimes the hardest climb will reward you with the best view,” he said.
The Class of 2020’s commencement speaker was teacher Megan Bennett.
She shared personal memories about each of the graduates before offering several pieces of advice.
Bennett urged students to choose kindness in their actions.
“Kindness is not a form of weakness,” she said.
“Take responsibility for your actions,” Bennett said. “At the end of the day, you must choose which path to go down.”
By recognizing their power to make choices, graduates will be better able to face what comes next.
“You’ll be less likely to fall into the trap of blaming others for your situation,” Bennett said.
“Never stop asking questions,” was Bennett’s final piece of advice.
“The only way to grown and learn is life is to ask questions,” she said.
Principal Kasekamp presented each of the 12 attending graduates with a diploma and each was also given a red rose in the final part of the graduation ceremony.
The Paw Paw Class of 2020 graduates are: Haley Rose Abrell, Trista Dawn Abrell, William Jonathan Bowers, Morgan Nemaway Cloud, Maristy Marie Crosco, James Henry Deschenes, Hana Grace Hendrickson, Christopher Logan King, Andrew Galen Kurtz, Samantha Jean McGlade, Dylan Young Moreland, Coby Bryce Ridgeway, Juan Santiago Rodriquez and Christopher Michael Wolfe.