CUYAHOGA FALLS — The Woodridge Local School District’s leader said he is "very proud" of the Class of 2020, noting he felt the students "made the best of the situation" as they navigated the end of a school year unlike any other.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the shutdown of in-person classes starting in mid-March. For the seniors, it meant finishing their final coursework in a virtual setting.
"While the year did not end as any of us had hoped, our students rose to the occasion and embraced the realities they faced," said district Superintendent Walter Davis.
A final celebration for Woodridge High School’s Class of 2020 will occur on Friday, June 12, at 7 p.m., when a virtual commencement ceremony will air on the district’s website through its YouTube channel. The link to the video can be accessed on the district’s website at https://www.woodridge.k12.oh.us/.
Woodridge High School typically hosts their commencement ceremony at Blossom Music Center, but with the coronavirus outbreak limiting large gatherings, Davis said he knew he had to find an alternative and determined a virtual design would be best.
Davis said Woodridge seniors Marvin Montgomery and Drew Rush have "exceptional expertise in videography" and were enlisted by district administrators to produce videos of the school’s Baccalaureate ceremony and senior awards program.
"The students did a remarkable job producing two very professional videos," said Davis, who added those programs can also be viewed via the district’s website on its YouTube channel.
Since the commencement program is "more complicated," Davis said he and his staff hired The Impact Group, a local marketing, public relations and communications company, to produce the graduation ceremony video.
The Impact Group recorded all of the traditional elements of the ceremony. Graduating seniors visited the high school with their families on one of three evenings in May to take part in the virtual commencement. The students moved through stations that were set up in the high school to receive their diplomas and have their photos taken, Davis said. Family members were allowed into the auditorium to watch their senior have their name read, walk across the stage and turn their tassels "to thunderous applause from staff, administrators and members of the Board of Education," Davis said.
"For many, it was a very emotional time," added Davis. "Each student was celebrated individually. The students and their families exited through the cafeteria and many took time for pictures outside near the Bulldog statue. It was a special time."
Davis said the components of the virtual commencement ceremony will be "exactly what [they] would have been had we celebrated at Blossom." Both valedictorian Isabella Chirakos and salutatorian Rosemary Sterling deliver speeches, and long-time social studies teacher and coach Kevin Hearty gives the commencement address. Just like a live, in-person commencement program, Davis said each graduate is recognized individually.
"I suppose one highlight is the fact that this class, unlike any other, will forever have a video remembrance of their senior events," stated Davis. "They will be able to play the video at class reunions well into the future."
Davis praised the senior class officers who he said "demonstrated genuine leadership in guiding their classmates through the days leading up to graduation."
The Class President is Bailey Thompson, Vice President is Drew Rush, Secretary is Elizabeth Howard and Treasurer is Lillian Cooper. Davis said the class motto chosen by these leaders is appropriate given the "unprecedented nature of their senior year."
The motto is a quote from religious leader Dieter Uchtdorf and states: "It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop."
"I cannot think of a better way to describe the year and the example these students provided," observed Davis. "There is no doubt that these students, the Class of 2020, will persevere and succeed. I look forward to watching as they continue to lead, to achieve and to accomplish their goals."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.