Onteora High School honored its class of 2020 for persevering through a pandemic and helping each other struggle through distance learning. The event featured a brief ceremony and a triumphal honk-filled automotive caravan through district towns.
“It goes without saying that many of us were disappointed when we came to the realization that we would be unable to provide the class of 2020 with our traditional ceremony,” Onteora High principal Lance Edelman said at the June 25 event broadcast live on Radio Woodstock. “However, many people within the community stepped up and put together this unique ceremony, which will be memorable and talked about for many years to come.”
Salutatorian Ellery Loheide wasn’t sure what to write for her speech given the difficult events over the past several months. “I found it difficult to come up with something positive, because right now, there is little optimism in our country,” said Loheide, daughter of Laura and Eric Loheide of Shokan. “We are not only suffering a pandemic, but witnessing a call for change in communities that have longed for it for their entire lives …. I know that today is about us and our accomplishments, but I want to take a moment to recognize the privilege we have to be here. We graduated. We are moving on. And not everyone makes it this far.”
Her classmates are living through historic times and can’t miss the chance to do great things. “So, other than dwelling on the past and all of the things we have missed this year, let’s look forward to our futures. We are just starting our lives, and we are still those little kids that were scared to make friends on the first day of school.”
“Let’s remember to do all those things we wished we had.”
Loheide will attend the University of Southern California in the fall, and intends to major in sociology. “Let’s remember to do all those things we wished we had,” she reminded her classmates.
Watching each other develop
Valedictorian Emily Salem said she misses the discussions and interactions she had in school.
“When I first learned that I would be giving this speech, I expected to be doing it from behind a podium on our football field,” said Salem, daughter of Kate Hyman and Kevin Salem of Woodstock. She will be attending Harvard College in the fall, where she plans to major in government or social studies.
“I would’ve said how grateful I am to be a part of this district and how much I am going to miss all of you,” reflected Salem. “The only difference now is that I already miss you. Part of what makes our school so special is that it’s small enough that the hallways are full of familiar faces.”
Salem said some of the most valuable learning “happened unexpectedly through after-class discussions, and my experience is not unique.”
She thanked the teachers for their dedication and kindness. “Dialogue in and out of class is so meaningful because we have a lot to learn from each other and we have a lot to learn about each other,” she said.
Salem learned valuable lessons from her fellow students. “My classmates have taught me that if you talk to someone for long enough you will discover something new and valuable that might make you think or feel differently,” she said. “We have watched each other develop into the people we are today.”
Finally, she thanked the school and community for caring through tough times and supporting the school and its students. “For as much as we have shaped Onteora, it has shaped us, and we are graduating here with more to show than just our diplomas,” Salem said.
You have become leaders
Superintendent Victoria McLaren praised the graduates’ parents and families for supporting the students in this difficult time.“There will be many more milestones to celebrate in the future, but this is a big one and you deserve our gratitude for partnering for all these years,” McLaren said. “I’d also like to thank our community for the support that never wavers. We are not a large school, but we are definitely unique, and we benefit from the amazing generosity of this community every year.”
McLaren commended the students for remaining positive and working together to succeed.
“You have collaborated in planning this graduation that is unlike any other, you have stepped up to tutor other students that needed your assistance. You have actively participated in your student government. You have donated to those families in your community that needed your help. In short, you have demonstrated that you are capable and caring members of this community,” McLaren said. “We don’t need to wonder what type of leaders you will become. We have watched you skillfully leading and doing it with compassion.”
In memory of Maddy
Principal Edelman announced an honorary diploma for Madison Creagan, who died in an automobile crash on the Ohio Turnpike in August 2016 at age 14. Her family attended the June 25 ceremony. “Madison, or Maddy, as her friends called her, was loved by her classmates, her teammates and her faculty and staff,” Edelman said. “Many of our seniors today have incorporated images, stickers and ribbons on their vehicle decorations in honor and memory of Madison.”
These seniors didn’t form a processional and walk up to receive their diplomas. Instead, they got a grand sendoff in the form of a long parade. They traveled in a caravan through the district communities including Boiceville, Phoenicia, Woodstock and West Hurley. People stood on the roadside to wish them well.
Arriving in Woodstock was a police-escorted parade led by a half-dozen school buses sounding their horns, followed by a long procession of cars and open-top Jeeps with seniors waving to the onlookers. People held signs congratulating the 2020 class. Confetti cannons were fired from the roof of the Golden Notebook bookstore.