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Daniel Hand High School class of 2020 held a drive-in-style graduation on June 18 at the High School. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
At Daniel Hand High School’s drive-in-style graduation on June 18, speeches such as the salutatory address by Kylie Corniello were projected onto a screen above the stage. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
North Madison Volunteer Fire Company junior members Sam Hauser and Isaac Lerner pose for a photo before their graduation. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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This past week, after more than three months of unprecedented struggles, anxieties, and adjustments stemming from the closure of schools to COVID-19, the Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) Class of 2020 emerged unbowed, stepping across the stage in a graduation ceremony that was just as unprecedented as everything else this school year, still full of optimism and fire to walk into a better world.
The ceremony, which had students bring their cars to the DHHS parking lot, gathering around a makeshift stage and screen, felt in some ways traditional, while simultaneously brimming with the strangeness of it all—the format, the fear, the still-unanswered questions about the future of a rapidly changing world.
“If you’re like me, you’ve probably imagined this day a million times before, although I’m sure you didn’t picture it being like this,” Salutatorian Kylie Corniello said.
“But,” she added, “if any class was prepared to deal with this, it was ours.”
Mingling in and around their painted and decorated cars before the ceremony started, seniors and their families seemed somewhat hesitant, gathering in a large, though mostly distanced group for liekly the first time since schools closed March 13.
But by the time DHHS Principal TJ Salutari began calling names, and students began filing across the shaded stage—picking up diplomas from a table and forgoing the usual handshake—the mood turned celebratory.
Despite everything, they had made it.
Valedictorian Ruby Redlich said in her speech that she didn’t realize until May how different the ceremony would be.
“I would have believed many things before you told me a global pandemic would cancel the last trimester of our senior year and change our daily lives so dramatically,” she said.
The pandemic is going to make the Class of 2020’s experiences and ideas different from everyone who came before them, Redlich said, not just in high school, but for the rest of their lives.
But the hope, she said, that is the flexibility required of them during the pandemic would give 2020 grads the ability to keep open minds, and adapt to new circumstances and ideas.
“We will need to be open—albeit warily—to new ideas and new realities,” she said.
This potential to adapt, to take on a world that no other generation has experienced, was maybe the most poignant idea expressed at the ceremony.
But graduates, in their speeches, spent plenty of time talking about more ordinary things—middle school escapades, dances, gross science experiments, and beloved teachers. Despite all the strangeness, there was still a strong sense that the Class of 2020 had held on to these more innocent, everyday feelings and memories, and that not even global crises could take those things away.
“I think in a few years, we will look back on this [ceremony] fondly, too,” said Corniello. “At the end of the day, graduation itself is just a ceremony. What really matters is how we got here.”
Stories and photos of the DHHS Class of 2020 can be found at the class’s dedicated website Zip06.com/DHHS2020.
The 2020 guide to the Madison Chamber of Commerce has arrived!