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RHS Class of 2020 celebrates a year of firsts

By Staff | May 29, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Rugby High School graduate Ty Gross smiles as he rides in a pickup truck last Friday. Gross was one of 45 graduates participating in a parade before the school's commencement ceremony at Johnsen Field.

By SUE?SITTER

Staff Writer

ssitter@thepiercecountytribune.com

The Rugby High School Class of 2020 celebrated lots of firsts at their outdoor commencement ceremony, held last Friday on the school’s Johnsen Field.

The ceremony itself was a first. Throughout the school’s more than 100-year history, Rugby students have graduated indoors, receiving their diplomas on a stage.

And although local business and community members usually honor new graduates with congratulations and parties, the city cleared Main Avenue to honor this year’s class with an afternoon parade.

Light poles along the route held 45 banners, each dedicated to a 2020 Rugby High grad.

“It was a wonderful day,” said Rugby High Principal Jared Blikre in a written statement a few days later. “I’m just so glad we could give these students a chance to get together one last time to celebrate and give them the closure they needed. I thought the outdoor ceremony was really cool. I can see some future classes requesting an outdoor graduation.”

“Weather is the main obstacle as to whether that can happen or not,” Blikre added.

“The parade was a great idea that was set up and organized by some senior moms. Again, a really neat potential new tradition at RHS,” Blikre noted. ” Just to be clear though, that was not organized by the school,” Blikre added.

Grads, faculty and family groups kept six feet apart as they filed into seats and bleachers at Johnson Field and turned their attention to a stage set up a few yards away from the running track.

“People remind us that we’re trailblazers, and we’ll probably become a social studies unit at some point,” joked Lillian Schmidt, one of three honor graduates to speak at the afternoon ceremony.

Schmidt’s speech touched on class’s past. “From the start, life’s been crazy,” she said. “Many of us were born right around 9/11.”

Schmidt recounted humorous experiences shared by the grads, who nodded and laughed.

Honor grad Trenton Sanford, who spoke about the present, told the group, “None of this was what we were expecting for graduation. If someone had told me we’d be having our graduation on the football field with six feet between everyone due to the global pandemic COVID-19, I would have thought they were crazy.”

“When I began thinking about this speech, I figured that talking about the present was going to be the hardest part of the three speeches, especially for an over analyst like myself. The present is just a fleeting moment. Time’s so short that before you can finish your sentence, it’s already in the past,” Sanford added.

Sanford listed the ways the unplanned-for novel coronavirus pandemic altered plans for prom, spring sports, concerts and other activities.

He also thanked staff, families and fellow students for their support through the school year’s difficult end.

Closing his speech with a smile, Sanford said, “I thank you all for your present of being present while I presented my speech about the present.”

Honor grad Melody Johnson also thanked family, friends and staff for their support and encouraged classmates to “take a leap of faith” into their future. “Face the next part of your life with open minds,” she added.

“Even as life continues to throw more and more curveballs our way, I insist that none of you take your new independence for granted,” Johnson added. “Don’t be spectators of your own stories. Live your lives the way you want to, not how others want you to.”

The students stepped onstage, six feet apart, to receive their diplomas. COVID-19 had changed yet another thing in their lives. Blikre told the group scholarships would be handed out later, after committees made their final decisions. The students received congratulations from Blikre, Rugby Schools Superintendent Mike McNeff and Rugby School Board President Carlie Johnson.

Pastor Mike Lundberg of Calvary Evangelical Free Church delivered both the opening prayer and benediction for the ceremony.

After the ceremony, Rugby Schools Superintendent told the Tribune in an email, “It was a wonderful day and we were happy to provide some sense of normalcy to our graduates. I think we will certainly consider outdoor graduations going forward for our future graduates.”

“After a spring of cancellations, parents in general seemed to be thankful that we were able to have a formal graduation for their graduates,” McNeff added. “I heard that the students really enjoyed the parade and we were so happy that the weather cooperated.”

McNeff said he learned from his experience developing an online education program on short notice with school staff.

“We want to create problem solvers and adaptable students,” McNeff noted. “The class in particular has done an excellent job adapting to uncertainty and making the best of it.”

“We were able to build an online learning platform in a very short amount of time,” McNeff added. “I am extremely proud of our staff and their commitment to our students. We learned a great deal over the past couple months and it will help guide our decisions as we develop our reentry plan for the fall.”

Blikre agreed. “E-learning was certainly a challenge, but our students and teachers tackled it head on. I am very proud of their efforts. We made the best of a difficult situation.

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