by DARREL RADFORD - Courier Times
Adorned in black and yellow gowns, Morristown’s Class of 2020 crossed the finish line of a very trying senior year Saturday – with the final steps appropriately coming on the high school track.
Pride, inspiration and gratitude swirled in the breeze of a bright day under party cloudy skies as a graduation that had been changed and rearranged as many as three times was held at last. Family and friends applauded, wiped away tears and shouted names of loved ones from lawn chairs, shaded by umbrellas or, in some cases, gathered under a tent.
Speeches from administrators, teachers and students were short on length, but long on meaning.
This year’s senior class speaker choice was English instructor Jim Helsley, who put the trials and tribulations of 2020 into rich perspective.
“Students, when you were born, you entered into a world that had changed dramatically due to 9-11,” Helsley said. “Securities were beefed up, our freedoms were put in danger and we were unsure if another attack would happen. Fast forward 18 years and here you are learning how to be socially distant, wear a mask and fight the invisible virus that we are all struggling to understand.
“What I have been impressed by the most is how you have learned to be resilient during these last four months,” Helsley continued. “You have learned not to take for granted the family time you’ve been missing before this pandemic and most importantly you have learned to adapt and change on the fly.”
The teacher appreciated for his passionate teaching and life lessons left the seniors with one final challenge, one he said their senior year had prepared them for in many ways. Quoting author Maya Angelou, he urged the graduates to wear her words alongside their tassel and chords. “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.”
“Each and every one of you could very well be changed by what has happened to you these past four months. You could very well be changed by something that happens to you next week, next year, five years from now or 20 years from now. However, my challenge to each and every one of you today is as Maya Angelou said, refused to be reduced by it. Don’t let the challenges of this world change you or reduce you. Fight to be a stronger person. Fight to be a better person. Fight to set goals you know you will achieve.”
Helsley said the class had already achieved so much more above and beyond academic requirements for graduation.
“You have survived nine weeks of eLearning,” he said. “You have survived those stressful nights of studying for that test and you survived those difficult classes that gave you trouble. You survived your first real break-up, even though you may have cried forever. You were the first graduation class to have your graduation date and place changed three times because of a pandemic.”
But in the process, the Class of 2020 may have started a new post-commencement tradition.
“You are the first graduating class to have a parade through town and that will be a tradition from every year on out,” Helsley said.
Valedictorian Emily Hardwick, daughter of David and Stephanie Hardwick, said 2020’s adversity had actually been a gift in disguise.
“In school, we’ve been taught facts, formulas and theories,” she said. “And of course, that’s incredibly important. Experiences, however, give us an opportunity to grow in a way we can’t really be taught. The year 2020 has been highly unusual and generally awful, but the way our community has come together these past few months is heartwarming.”
Hardwick, who plans to attend Purdue University and study veterinary medicine, said the 44 Morristown high School graduates should walk with confidence into their futures. The COVID-19 dominated year has given them an antidote for adversity.
“Whatever your plans, they will call for you to adapt,” she said. “There is a reason we call it the REAL world. High school just isn’t the same. I’m confident though, from what I’ve seen this year, that we are capable.”
Salutatorian Cassie Lutes, daughter of Doug and Monica Lutes, urged the graduates to think big, even though they come from a small community.
“No matter how small you feel, you are in some way, to someone the key difference,” Lutes said. “Changing even a single piece of a puzzle still changes the overall picture, and what is the world if not humanity’s largest puzzle? So be mindful, compassionate and courageous as we move into a world that seems so large and forbidding and remember the things you’ve learned these past years and seek that which you didn’t.”
Morristown’s 44 graduating seniors included: Kate Marie Armentrout, John Winston Bertram, Austin Joseph Blocher, Bailey Ruth Britt, Trevson William Martinez Carlton, Veronica K. Christmas, Preston Scott Lewis Civils, Maecy Elizabeth Coates, Breann Marline Cooper, Silas Xavier Corbin, Drake Quincy Hervey Deak, Nicole Lynn Dunham, Jarrod Tracy Fogle, Roscoe C. Fry III, Abigail Grace Gabbard, Greenley Rylyn Goedde, Alyssa L. Guffey, Elizabeth Karen Haley, Emily Hardwick, Blaine Therese Harriman, Nicholas Joseph Hoagland an Steven Russell Horton II.
Also Adrianna Ivonne Ibarra, Gabrielle Denise Ibarra, Garrett Patrick Jones, Ethan August Kehl, Madelyn Brennan Livezey, Christian E. Luke, Cassandra R. Lutes, Kirsten L. Payne, Kaylenn Rhea Sanford, Colin Gregory Schmitz, Toby Jacob Schonfeld, Wyatt Edward Schonfeld, Savannah Rae Simmonds, Noah Edward Smith, Kierston Paige Stover, Allison Marie Warfield, Marah Nicole Watkins, Kailynn Leigh Wethington, Trey Alexander Wethington, Mark Anthony Weise Jr. and Robert Matthew Wiggins.