It wasn’t the graduation they’d planned on. It wasn’t the graduation many had dreamed of. But on Thursday night the graduating seniors of Talawanda High School had a commencement that will stand out in the school’s history.
The traditional ceremony was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions against the gathering of large groups. So, in lieu of an in-person commencement with classmates crowded together throwing their caps into the air, the ceremony was streamed over YouTube at 7 p.m. with most students and their families participating at home, while a few key speakers broadcast their messages from the high school.
The lineup of events included a senior slideshow, a video tribute to the class of 2020, speeches by a number of distinguished students and alumni, and finally, the reading of the 277 names of the graduates.
The messages in the speeches referenced the pandemic and its restrictions either directly or indirectly:
“Obstacles are not permanent,” senior Elizabeth Eberwine told her classmates. “Remember where it all started.”
Student Body President Dalton Norris was not surrounded by all of his friends as he stood alone before the camera, broadcasting from the school. But he said he was “still honored to be standing here.”
Student Body Treasurer Jack Tincher remembered to thank the parents of the senior class, for whom graduation ceremonies are as much milestones as they are for the students. And despite the awkwardness of a YouTube commencement, senior Shr-Hua Moore reminded everyone that “tonight is a night for celebration, not sadness.”
Abbi Bahlau, class salutatorian, advised younger Talawanda students to cherish the moments they have because you don’t know what might happen. Then she thanked not just the Talawanda staff and faculty, but all the “essential” workers who have stayed on the job during the pandemic.
Senior Ben Farmer recounted his last day in school back in March and emphasized focusing on what the students “admire” most about themselves, each other and about Talawanda as a whole.
And of course, there were adult speakers as well.
Edward Theroux, superintendent of Talawanda School District, looked toward the future, speaking about how the senior class will be the adults of a “new, positive world” and encouraged them to be the ones who change it.
A surprise guest speaker was comedian and actor Gary Owen, Talawanda class of ’91, whose pre-recorded message was played into the program. His message to the students was to tell them they would be hearing a lot of “no’s” as they move into adult roles, but to “let those no’s motivate you.” Owen said he wanted “greatness to come from this class,” and emphasized how he’s always proud to come back to Oxford.
The COVID-19 pandemic put the class of 2020 in a unique situation, as the students were forced to miss arguably the two biggest events of their high school years: senior prom and a traditional graduation ceremony.
Prior to the ceremony, Senior Class President Trenton Young said it was “truly heartbreaking” that the class of 2020 had those events taken away from them. Young said there was no way of knowing March 12 would be the last day in school for any of the seniors. Young attended Talawanda from his freshman through senior year. He plans to go on to Miami University in the fall and major in electrical engineering.
Principal Tom York took a moment at the end of the ceremony to thank and acknowledge everyone who had worked on the planning and execution of the ceremony. He also took a moment to remember Mike Davis, class of ‘73, treasurer for the district, who died on April 11 from complications of COVID-19.
And then, after 13 years of hard work, Talawanda seniors finally heard York say: “I present to you the class of 2020!”