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2020 Tigers celebrate a pandemic graduation

Fran Brownell
St. John News
Mortarboards of the 2020 St. John High School graduating class fill the air at the conclusion of their outdoor graduation ceremony, Saturday, July 11, at the St. John High Football field. Several students decorated their caps with unique designs special to them, including one with a  verse from Isaiah reading “Where God guides, He provides.”

It wasn’t the graduation that St. John High School seniors had anticipated, but despite COVID-19 circumstances, on Saturday July 11,  the 23 members of SJHS Class of 2020 donned caps and gowns —blue for the guys and white for the girls – and filed onto the school football field to the traditional majesty of Pomp and Circumstance, while  family members and friends watched from the  bleachers.

Master of Ceremonies SJHS Principal Blaine White, wearing a colorful Hawaiian shirt and lei, presided over the 133rd SJHS graduation ceremony which opened with the National Anthem sung by SJHS senior choir members Erin Crissman, Dayton Long, Riley McCandless and Bree Meyer.

“It’s a very important day in the lives of these seniors and their family members and thank goodness we’re able to be here. For so long, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to,” White said.

White invited Class of 2020 Valedictorians Erin Crissman, Bree Meyer, Trevor Tanner and Marshall Woolf --who attained the status by maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average throughout their high school careers—to share reflections on their high school careers.

Meyer reflected that she and most of her classmates were born the year of the 9-11 attack on the New York Twin Towers.

“I was born exactly one week after 9-11,” Meyer said. “And now, 18 years later my classmates and I are graduating during a Pandemic.”

Other members of the SJHS Class of 2020 are Jaron Brittain, Whitney Brummer, America Fernandez, Trey Fisher, Collin Halling, Tanner Halling, Nevaeh Haney, Clayton Huston, Andrew (AJ) Miller, Christopher Miller, Vanessa Moreno, Dalton Nemec, Joel Ortiz, Baylee Schrag, Destiny Talbot, Jonathan Villanueva and Austin Woolf.

White also paid recognition to USD 350 Superintendent Josh Meyer, SJHS Counselor and Senior Class Advisor Wendy Hacker and to USD 350 Board of Education President Derek Foote, Vice President Carl Behr, and board members Darin Brummer, Vance Fisher, Raymond Long, Debbie Waddle and Shawn Ward, who were in attendance.

“Thank you for your efforts to set a vision, direction and ensure success of these students, particularly with the challenges of the past year,” White said.

White paid tribute to school staff – both teachers and support staff--mentioning that some of them led the graduates onto the field and some of them were seated behind graduates during the ceremony, signifying that students were both led and supported by school personnel throughout their high school careers.

The principal also paid honor to parents and guardians of graduates, recognizing their contributions to student successes.

Graduating senior Whitney Brummer was recognized by White as one of 57 students state-wide to receive the Kansas State Board of Education Kansas Career and Technology Education Scholar Award, receiving a pin to commemorate the honor.

Taking the stage for the presentation of diplomas, Meyer commended White for his leadership.

“He’s been instrumental in getting us through this crazy school year,” Meyer said of White.

Meyer also commented on the choice of Hawaiian leis for the event.

Meyer referred to a quote by Pat Williams, an executive of the Orlando Magic Professional Basketball Organization, questioning, “Have you ever seen somebody wearing an Hawaiian lei having a bad day?”

Addressing students, Meyer said, “I know you all didn’t finish your high school career the way you envisioned and I’m sorry for that. I wish it could have been different.”

“I do know one thing,” Meyer told graduates. “It’s going to be okay. You can choose to dwell on the uncertainty or you can choose optimism.”

Sixty-six days later than the anticipated graduation date, Meyer said to graduates, “I’m excited to be able to tell you all congratulations,”  affirmed that the members of the graduating class have met the qualifications to be awarded diplomas.

As their names were called, graduates ascended the steps to the platform to receive their diplomas, exchanging fist bumps and also some spontaneous hugs with White, who looped Hawaiian leis around their necks, and also with Meyer and board of education members who presented the diplomas.

As Meyer presented his daughter Bree with her diploma, she placed a lei around his neck before sharing a hug with her dad.

In closing remarks, challenging new grads, White said, “Make your goals, set your plans but, if something gets in your way, never let that keep you from pushing forward.”

“I’m proud of you, so proud of you,” White told new grads. “Your class leaves a legacy of overcoming.”

White also commented on the gift of a two-dollar bill that he gives to each new graduate, saying, “I choose to give that gift because it’s unique, it’s intriguing and it’s resilient, like each of you.”

“I hope it reminds you of your time as a Tiger, cause it’s a great day to be a Tiger,” White said.

White invited Trey Fisher, as class president, to come to the platform to lead his fellow students in the time-honored graduation tradition of transferring the  tassels on their mortarboards from right to left, and then flinging their mortarboards ---several of which were decorated -- into the air, including one with a verse from Isaiah, reading “Where God guides, He provides.”

St. John SSC TV Channel 3 recorded the 45-minute ceremony which is available for viewing on YouTube and there is also another video posted on the SJHS Facebook site.

The SSC TV video includes captions denoting Class Flower, peony; Class Colors, royal blue and chrome; Class Motto, “We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all”-author unknown.