Arlington Memorial High School Class of 2020
ARLINGTON — The Arlington Memorial High School class of 2020 received their diplomas and honors Saturday at an outdoor graduation ceremony that looked very normal.
While other schools held drive up ceremonies, canceled speeches, or made major changes to their ceremonies as required by the COVID-19 pandemic, AMHS' ceremony was as close to normal as it gets these days.
The graduation ceremony was held outdoors in the school's parking lot where chairs were arranged into PODS of 10 socially distanced from other pods.
Students, wearing Arlington Eagle face masks, marched single-file from behind the school — maintaining sufficient space between them — around the gathered crowed and down the center aisle before circling around and joining their families for the ceremony.
Near the school, a stage was set up with a backdrop in front of a huge banner reading, "Congratulations Class of 2020."
A cloudy, threatening sky broke open to reveal bright sunlight for the graduates' big day as speakers took to the podium.
Valedictorian Arianna Barrios spoke of her memories she would take with her and thanked those responsible for helping the seniors have as close to a normal graduation as possible.
"With all that's happening in the world, being able to have a graduation ceremony is an enormous blessing and I'm overflowing with gratitude for everyone who assisted in making this happen for us," Barrios said. "If you had told me two years ago that a global pandemic would have cut our senior year short and made our graduation nearly impossible, that we would be confined to our houses, that everyone would wear masks, and that our world would be basically shut down, I would have told you to stop watching so many sci-fi horror movies and get a life. Well, look at me now."
Barrios also admitted that as the year progressed, she realized she wasn't ready for it to be over.
"At the beginning of this school year, I promised myself that I wouldn't cry or be overly emotional about graduating," Barrios said. "Then it finally hit me that my time here as a student at AMHS was coming to an end."
She said losing the end of their senior year together was hard.
"When I heard that school was closing temporarily, I wasn't too worried," Barrios said. "I didn't think the state of the world was as serious as it really is. Then when I found out school was canceled for the rest of the year, I was heartbroken, and I know I'm not the only one."
She said the end of the year is supposed to be the best part.
"We were supposed to go on a trip together," she said. "We were supposed to be having the time of our lives.
Those fun times and memories have been stolen away from us, and for that, I am truly sorry."
But, she said, nobody can take away their time together.
"No one can take away from us the time that we did have together," Barrios said. "The last four years (well, more like 3 years) we've spent together have been crazy and overwhelming, full of laughter and friendship. Together we built a tight-knit community. Together we rode this rollercoaster of our teenage years. Sure, it was challenging at times. But I wouldn't trade any of it. My time at this school with all of you has been unforgettable. Looking back feels bittersweet. Our time together was definitely not long enough. But I'm thankful for every minute."
Salutatorian Carolyn Crawford spoke of finding her way, despite having a poor sense of direction.
"I can say that I have found my way not to a set destination but rather to my future," Crawford said. "Arlington is a community built upon integrity, respect, and most importantly kindness; and I would not have found my way without the love, support, guidance and connections that have grown over the years."
She compared the seniors to a puzzle.
"All of the pieces are different shapes and sizes and colors," Crawford said. "And this puzzle was not easy to complete — it took many years because it changed to accommodate new pieces. But eventually, all of the pieces slid into their places. Every piece is supported and connected to the piece beside it. Today, I am proud to say that the puzzle has been completed with the final picture, the class of 2020. We have all found our places and are ready to open a new chapter."
And, she said, the puzzle will always fit back together.
"The puzzle may have to be disassembled; but though apart, no one will leave today without a connection to another person," Crawford said. "One day we will pull out the puzzle again and reassemble it because we are friends, we are family, we are built on integrity, respect and kindness. We are the proud class of 2020."
Before the top graduates spoke, commencement speaker Dave Curtis loosened the crowd up a bit with funny stories while also delivering poignant messages.
Right out of the gate, Curtis warned the crowd that it was a bad move to allow him to speak.
"I've had this opportunity a few times," Curtis said. "About 25 years ago I spoke at a graduation and no one remembers I was even there. That's because later in the ceremony a young lady stood and removed her grown keeping her cap on. She was wearing nothing underneath. That's the only thing people remember. The last time I spoke, I started singing. That may have been worse. So, if you remain clothed, promise not sing."
Curtis told the Class of 2020 they had picked a great time to graduate with a pandemic, recession and civil strife.
"Any one [of the three] would be enough," he said. "You got all three."
Curtis drew some parallels between his life and the graduates closing out their senior year.
When Curtis graduated 50 years ago, he said it was right after the Kent State shooting where National Guard soldiers shot and killed 13 college students during civil unrest on the campus of the university.
"I remember thinking the world had gone crazy," he said. "I am sure many of you have had similar thoughts with all of this."
He said every generation has its challenges.
His great-grandfather's generation was involved in the civil war and reconstruction. His grandfather was part of the generation identified with American exceptionalism that vaulted the country into its role as a world power.
"My father fought worldwide fascism," Curtis said. "My generation tried to level the playing field for women and minorities. There is much more to do. I do not know what your generations' challenges will be but it will present itself and help define you."
Curtis encouraged the graduates to pursue three things.
First, find something you love to do and hopefully you can make a living doing it.
Second, find people to love.
"Find people who support you in your endeavors," Curtis said. "Be that person to them."
Finally, he said, make the life of someone else richer and easier, he said. Find a way to serve.
Contact Darren Marcy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by cell at 802-681-6534.
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