June 10, 2020 — “Three months ago, we were finishing the third quarter and beginning Spring sports,” Siuslaw High School Principal Kerri Tatum said. “When the students went home on March 11, we were looking forward to a long weekend and nice weather. Overnight, education as we know it changed.”
Tatum stood on the grounds of Hans Petersen Memorial Field to start off Siuslaw School District’s first social-distance friendly graduation ceremony. Instead of hosting the nearly 100 graduating seniors all at once, the district spaced out the event, allowing seniors and their families the opportunity to walk to the makeshift stage to be handed diplomas.
Senior Class President Amelia Wells read the names out loud, while district board members Guy Rosinbaum and Paul Burns alternated the giving of diplomas.
One by one, seniors and their families walked onto the field, laughing, crying and taking pictures as the seniors entered their next chapter in life.
Traditional highlights of the ceremony, including speeches by seniors, were prerecorded and broadcasted live on KCST Coast Radio and posted online. KCST also covered the event live, with school board member Bob Sneddon and school counselor Steve Moser commentating.
“I want to thank this group of seniors and their families for their care, patience and grace as they rolled with some pretty difficult closures, cancellations and changes to the senior year and graduation they spent 13 years working towards,” Tatum said. “We know that the flexibility and ability to adapt that they have shown will serve them well in their future.”
Despite the difficulties of the past three months, the principal reported that 2020 represented the highest percentage of graduates of any class in Siuslaw history.
The evening officially began with the National Anthem, sung by senior Brooklyn Cahoon in a prerecorded video, followed by a recorded speech by Class of 2020 Outstanding Boy Jared Northrop.
Northrop began his speech by thanking the school board, staff, teachers and community at large who supported students through leadership, mentoring and simply being there for the students.
“I’d also like to thank all the parents who have helped guide us, support us and cheer us on, saying ‘You can do it,’” Northrop said. “I also want to thank and congratulate all my classmates of 2020. It’s been an honor to be a part of this class and I’m thankful for the good hearted, wise, talented and fun people that make up this group.”
He spoke about how the past few months were far from how his class would have ended the year, and spoke on the suddenness of the closure.
“Who would know that when we left class on March 11, that would be the last time we would step into a classroom with our teachers and classmates?” he asked. “Who knew that when we finished our athletic practices that it would be the last time on the field with our team and our coaches? No goodbyes, no nothing. Who knew that we would have to finish our studies remotely, without being able to be in the same room, walk down the same halls or eat lunch with our peers?”
He listed the many traditions that were lost to seniors this year including prom, school barbeques, concerts, spring sports and ceremonies. But Northrop also reflected on the many traditions that seniors were able to take part in throughout their 13-year career.
“Preschool story time at the Siuslaw Public Library with Ms. Gail, making gingerbread houses and performing in plays in kindergarten, visiting Elliot Farms in first grade, touring Sea Lions Caves and Heceta Head Lighthouse in second grade,” he said.
He also listed writing to pen pals in Reedsport in the third grade, science with Mrs. Smith in fourth, and the egg drop in fifth grade, as well as Siuslaw Watershed summer camps, Stream Team in middle school and “all the Jim Grano field trips throughout,” he said. “And here at the high school we had all our great activities until the last three months.”
At that point, things changed in one fell swoop, but Northrop stated the loss showed the resilience of the students.
“We are a class of strong individuals who can adapt to a world of change. And I’m confident that this group will go out and be a positive influence,” he said. “I hope that this great class of 2020 can share their kindness and help make this a better, more giving and more respectful to one another world.”
Northrop hopes that graduated will keep good memories of their time at the high school, and keep the relationships that they’ve established.
“Even as we all go about our individual lives that may take us to the opposite ends of the globe, remember, wherever you are, Siuslaw is still home,” he said. “Yes it’s true that the last few months were not what we envisioned. But now it’s time for us to envision our future and make that happen. We’ll always be Siuslaw Vikings and Viking strong.”
Class of 2020 Outstanding Girl Nina Aaron began her prerecorded speech with a look at the world when she was born, just after 9/11.
“Most of us came into this world during a time of unrest, trauma and heartbreak,” she said. “While healing from the loss of so many, the start of a new millennium and the advancement in technologies have allowed for a time of rebirth and growth as our country came together with strength and compassion.”
But her generation has since helped the nation become stronger.
“Over the course of our time together, we’ve managed to help our community, state, nation and the world to become a better place,” she said.
Now, however, the world is separated in ways never seen before.
“We have sacrificed our senior year memories to protect our community and our loved ones,” said Aaron. “We have learned that now, more than ever, our voices have the power to fight for better conditions that will create a better society for us and future generations. This is an opportunity for our generation to change the way that things have been done because we see that the old way of doing things isn’t working. We are the future leaders, the class that will change the world.”
Aaron echoed earlier comments that their class had shown a strong resilience in difficult times, pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a hero.
“These qualities will never be taken away from us and we can use them to create a more positive future. This year, we were the ones given the ultimate test of selflessness, and together we have united to create a special moment for all of us to remember for the rest of our lives,” she said.
At the conclusion of her speech, Aaron thanked the school board, parents and community for their support during the past three months.
“Over the course of this quarantine, people have started to realize how hard it is to be a teacher and that it takes a special type of person to do it,” she said. “From the late nights prepping to paying for things out of pocket to make our schooling easier, we will never be able to thank you enough.”
She also thanked her classmates for the memories, and gave advice to future graduates.
“Be leaders wherever you go, and always do what’s right, even when it’s hard,” she said. “And with the same strength and growth that we came into this world with, we will continue our path forward in putting in the work to leave this world a better place than it has ever been.”