During a school year that was met with challenges and uncertainty, the Locust Valley High School graduation was a beacon of light and hope for the Class of 2020.
Four graduation ceremonies were held on June 29 to maintain social distancing guidelines set forth by New York State. Each ceremony celebrated the graduates with motivating speeches, praise for their achievements and advice to help them meet their future goals.
The tradition of gifting each senior a flag during the school’s annual Flags for Freedom ceremony was continued, despite the ceremony itself being canceled by the pandemic. Incorporated into the graduation, the meaning was explained by Student Government President Hans Kiessling Jr.
“The Flags for Freedom program in Locust Valley is dedicated to our seniors and in honor of our veterans,” he said. “Through the efforts of Operation Democracy, to remember our heroes, to say thank-you to our patriots and service members, support has been gathered from the community to present to each student today, when students come to the stage, a United States Flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.”
Salutatorian Julia Forte addressed her classmates at each ceremony. “We are made up of a class unlike any other, a class of all-around amazing people: brilliant, athletic, artistic, kind.” She also spoke of the class being split into four ceremonies. “Know that even though we are graduating separately, that the sacrifice we are making graduating separately is for a greater purpose and I think that's beautiful,” she said.
Valedictorian Michelle Hsu shared memories of school as well as advice for her peers. “High school was a special time that cannot be replicated. But the emotions, the relationships, the community, they don’t end here, and neither does the learning. If you immerse and invest yourself, you will feel joy and pride in whatever you do and build close friendships wherever you go,” she said.
Locust Valley High School Principal Patrick DiClemente led the ceremonies and offered his thoughts to the seniors. “Graduates, as a parent shared with me this week, the wind is not always at our back and the tide sometimes pulls us away from the safety of the shoreline,” he said. “As Walt Whitman writes, ‘If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.’ Keep trying, adapt, fail, try again, get a little better with every experience, be a lifelong learner. Have a plan B, realize that success in school, in careers, in life will often need to come when the winds aren’t favorable and will be determined by how you respond.”
Board of Education President Jennifer Maselli also talked about facing challenges. “Sometimes, the greatest growth we can experience as individuals comes from the struggles we face,” she said. “While quarantine may have felt consuming, there were many other trials you faced on your way to becoming a high school graduate. You overcame those challenges, too.”
Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas P. Dolan reached out to the kindergarten teachers who taught the Class of 2020 in the year 2007. He shared advice from those teachers, which included reminding them of some of the same lessons they were taught as 5 year olds. Through Dr. Dolan, Ms. Eno reiterated her kindergarten lesson that “one act of kindness changes everything for a person.” He said that Ms. Shanahan shared a message from Eric Carle’s book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” which she often read with her kindergarten class: “You, like the caterpillar, will grow up, unfold your wings and fly off into the future.” Each of the teachers that Dr. Dolan spoke with sent their best wishes to their former students for a successful future.
While the Class of 2020 had a senior year that they will always remember for its unique circumstances, graduation focused on hope and the opportunities waiting for each of them in the future. As if on cue, as the final graduation ceremony concluded, a rainbow, sometimes seen as a sign of hope, graced the sky above the high school fields.
Congratulations to the Class of 2020!