Classic send-off for MHS Class of 2020 (Updated Wednesday, July 1)

Monday, June 29, 2020
Chris Allen/Democrat-News

"2020 is not the year that blew up in flames. It is the year that allowed us into the radiant, sometimes brutal sun."

So Student Body President Drew Arends summarized his takeaway from the senior year that wasn't, shortened three months due to the cancellation of on-campus classes prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, during the Marshall High School Commencement address Saturday.

The 217-member Class of 2020 finally got a traditional ceremony, a month later than planned, with an opening processional to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstances" to their socially-distanced chairs on the Wayne O'Neal Track. It got to hear speeches, perform the Red and Black Balloon Launch, walk across the dais to receive diplomas from School Board President Erin Williams Maxwell Meyer, and toss mortars in celebration.

Chris Allen/Democrat-News

"Who would have thought we'd be sitting six feet apart at graduation, that our senior year would end on March 13th?" Arends asked. "Indeed, the Class of 2020 is unforgettably, undoubtedly not normal."

"This class has displayed grace and perseverance at every level," remarked MHS Principal Ian Verts in his introductory remarks. "They represent Owl Pride."

"It's easy to say that 2020 has not been anybody's year," noted Senior Class President Sophia Guthrey. "It's been a roller coaster with very few ups and many downs."

While seniors missed many of the experiences enjoyed by upperclassmen during their final semesters -- "I don't even remember my last day at school," Guthrey admitted -- there are still indelible memories from the past four years, along with some lessons.

"COVID-19 has taught us to never take anything for granted," Guthrey said. "Take the lessons you've learned with you, including your Owl Pride. The world is waiting for us."

Arends also had his wistful moments, but his focus was outward -- toward the world his classmates were entering. The class was born in the wake of 9/11 and grew up with social media, noting "the Internet allowed us to see the world as never before."

"The Class of 2020 entered high school with the tumultuous election of 2016 and are leaving it in the midst of a pandemic, economic crisis and a global movement for racial justice," said Arends, one of the student leaders of the peaceful protest rally held on the Marshall Courthouse Square earlier this month. "The four years in between, well, they've been defined by calls for racial changed that can be summarized by their hashtags: #MeToo, #Never Again, #BlackLivesMatter.

"Chaos has been the soundtrack to our lives, and nowhere has that been clearer than in the last several months," he continued. "There is no future where there is no chaos. If you become aware of your surroundings, particularly the world's injustices, there is no going back to normal."

However, Arends' outlook was far from bleak.

"I find hope in the incredible amount of empathy the youth possesses," he asserted. "We as humans have a duty to care about other human beings."

Arends encouraged others to be who they are and recognize their own value, even if others fail to, and understand that "your anger is like fire: just enough can keep you fighting, but too much can consume you."

When he began as a freshman, Arends said he was worried about survival, but he instead has thrived -- and recommended to underclassmen it should their "goal to do more than survive, too."

Arends took time to "celebrate the moment," giving credit to the educators who have helped his development -- "a few of my inspirations" -- and the many moments shared with his friends. He also touched on the theme of "home," which he described as "not just the past, but who you surround yourself with."

"So go where you feel valued, where you feel free," Arends suggested near the conclusion of his 18-minute speech. "Surround yourself with people who say, 'I know what you're saying. I want to listen to you.' Always make sure you have people who will stand with you in the sun, and will dance with you in the rain -- no matter how severe the storm."

Arends' final theme was on change, encouraging his peers to "embrace the uncertainty."

"The future can be terrifying," he conceded, "but once you get past the fear, your future is endless in the best of ways. So take risks, forge your own path, be yourself and never regret being bold."

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