Sirens blared and horns honked on Saturday afternoon as police officers and firefighters escorted the Class of 2020 to their in-person, outdoor graduation on the Wallkill Valley football field.
The graduates walked down the hill as the sun shone brightly overhead. “Pomp and Circumstance” played, then the classmates progressed around the field to cheers.
Valedictorian Sarah McNamara spoke about the pandemic’s unexpected lessons, and encouraged her classmates to prioritize love and friendship. Life holds many pathways for future pursuits, she said. The future is complex, she said, and not readily understood. She encouraged everyone to live according to their dreams, happiness, and values, regardless of obstacles.
“All eyes are on the Class of 2020,” she said.
Salutatorian Evan Wontor said no one could have predicted on Friday, March 13, that their time at Wallkill would be cut short. They never thought that half-day would be their last together as a class before graduation. He encouraged everyone to remember this moment together and be grateful for the opportunity to say good-bye to friends.
Kayla Baker recited the “Pledge of Allegiance” along with the graduates, and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
‘Incredible power of love and strength’
The police and fire departments from Hamburg, Hardyston, Franklin, and Ogdensburg attended as volunteers to give graduates their support.
Superintendent David Carr said that, after long months of quarantine, it was great to finally celebrate the Class of 2020 together in person. He thanked everyone who made the ceremony possible: custodians, administration, staff members, board members, police officers, firefighters -- “all those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep our communities safe” -- parents, and each member of the class.
“During difficult times you learn about yourself, and you will have a great future as you begin the next chapter of your lives,” Carr said.
He spoke about character, asking the graduates to honor those who came before them, be kind to others, be the first to step in if someone needs help, make the community a better place for those who follow, work hard, and have integrity.
He encouraged the students to achieve great things but without following the crowd and without anger. “Please never forget people make mistakes,” he said. “To be able to forgive someone is an incredible power of love and strength.”
They have more things keeping them together than apart, he said.
Carr reminded the class to be open to new ideas, “but remember your history and the contributions of those who came before you. Never stop learning.”
“You can make the world better by doing positive things each day,” he said. “That’s how things get better – one person doing one good deed at a time.”
Students stood as they were recognized for faculty awards and scholarships in all subjects. One hundred students came forward to receive diplomas and take individual photos with Superintendent Carr.
Director of Curriculum and Instruction Taryn Geuther announced the names of students whose art work will be part of the permanent art collection. The pieces will be framed and displayed throughout the high school building, creating Wallkill’s own art gallery. She said there are currently hundreds of pieces of art work in the collection dating back to the early ‘80s.
Athletic Director Daryl Jones, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Taryn Geuther, Assistant Principals Kevin Lukich, Vito Morgese, and Adam Vazquez had visited graduates’ homes with Superintendent Carr to deliver diplomas.
Vicky Schroeder presented an award to Superintendent Carr in recognition of his leadership during the shutdown. She spoke of his dedication in visiting all 133 graduates at their homes, personally delivering each senior’s diploma, and taking a graduation picture with each student. She quoted families who spoke of his sacrifice of time and personal safety to make them feel honored and celebrated. One family said the graduates will remember that, when all was lost, Carr was knocking on their door, wearing his mask, holding each student’s diploma in one hand, and shaking the student’s hand with the other.
Carr said he was honored to receive the award. It was a highlight of his career to go to each of their houses, he said.
“Stand up and throw those caps,” he said as the ceremony came to an end.
Afterward, a guest congratulated a student whose experience was poignant and universal.
“My mom’s crying,” she said.