California High School's Class of 2020 put what has been a rough and emotional school year behind them to start anew as they graduated over the weekend.
The seniors took part in Baccalaureate on May 29 and in graduation the next day, when they walked across Riley Field to receive their diplomas.
One of the graduates honored this weekend, Mackinzi Atwell, said she'd been dreaming of graduating high school ever since she began attending school in kindergarten. Atwell said she'd always imagined a huge celebration, with all of her friends and family there to support her. However, nothing could have prepared her for what was going to happen this year, she said.
"My senior year was nothing like I imagined it would be," Atwell said. "I experienced anger, heartbreak from the loss of a class member, but most of all, I experienced the ending of a chapter and the wonderful beginning of a new one. Walking across to get my diploma made me feel a lot of emotions. But the main thing I wanted to do was yell out, 'I finally did it.' And this may be odd, but the first person I wanted to yell that out to would be my great-grandmother. She passed away when I was in the third grade. I called her 'Tique' and her wish was for me was to graduate from high school, then college and eventually get married and have a family. In that moment standing on stage, I felt her watch me from above accept my diploma and say 'That's my baby girl.'"
After the seniors took their seats, spelling out "2020" with their chairs, CHS principal Sean Kirksey welcomed them to their ceremony and superintendent Dwight Sanders introduced Kendra Dunham, this year's commencement speaker, to give her speech to her fellow classmates.
"My favorite part was listening to the speech given by Kendra Dunham at graduation," graduate Clayton Winkler said. "She spoke so well and it brought back all of my school memories, like a tornado scare from third grade, stories of other students and how we have the worst spirit, which was funny. She summed up our grade in the best way possible."
Winkler said Baccalaureate was also nice because he was able to bring family that would not be able to attend graduation.
"It was a beautiful day outside and the whole thing just went great. I felt accomplished — high school was finally placed as a memory," Winkler said.
After Dunham's speech, the senior choir sang "I Choose Love" by Mark A. Miller, directed by Michele Bilyeu. Shortly after, the class rose and was presented their diplomas by the school board. California High School uses Cum Laude Latin Honors. Summa Cum Laude indicates a student has achieved a grade point average of 4.0 or higher, and the student receives a gold cord. Magna Cum Laude is a GPA between 3.50-3.99 and receives a red, white and blue cord. Finally, Cum Laude is a GPA between 3.00-3.49 and receives a white cord. Each students was recognized for their academic honors as they walked to the platform.
"I could not have asked for anymore quite honestly," Sanders said of the event. "We had a really good turn out. We had several folks out in the parking lot — I think that was a way some families overcame the issue of only having four tickets, they kind of tailgated. So that was kind of neat they had that opportunity then. Of course, we partnered with Lake TV so they could record that and do a live broadcast, so they did that on their station in COMO, and there were several links that families could use if they didn't have COMO service to still be able to watch the graduates. Given the circumstances of COVID-19 and us doing our very best to social distance, I thought it went extremely well, the partnership with COMO worked out very well and the weather couldn't have been better. I was very pleased."
After everyone received their diplomas, seniors, faculty members, family and friends joined in singing the school's alma mater:
"As we gaze upon your portals, stately wide and high, Loudly we proclaim your praises, 'till they reach the sky. Hail! All hail! Our Alma Mater! Hear the echoes ring; Hail to thee, our Alma Mater! All hail! We sing! As we go along life's byways, thoughts will turn to you, hearts and minds will ever cherish, mem'ries fond and true. Hail! All hail! Our Alma Mater! Hear the echoes ring; Hail to thee, our Alma Mater! All hail! We sing!"
With their alma mater still ringing through the crowd, Kaitlyn Adams, CHS Class President of 2020, gave her closing comments to her class. Her speech ended with her encouraging the seniors to move their tassels on their caps to the other side and tossing them up to celebrate.
Kirksey echoed the thoughts of other district leadership like Sanders, saying he thought the ceremony went very well considering the circumstances.
"I was very impressed with the speeches delivered by both students. Kendra Dunham's speech was amazing and Katie Adams provided closure to the event with her excellent closing remarks," Kirksey said. "The commencement ceremony went extremely well considering we had a new venue and additional CDC requirements to coordinate. Julia Potter, Janet Henley, Brad Friedrich, Mike Moon, our teachers and our maintenance staff did an amazing job preparing for the event. They are an amazing group of young people."