BURRILLVILLE – There were no applause; no laughter or cheers at the inside jokes between members of the Class of 2020 as they celebrated their success, and their departure from Burrillville High School.
But speakers, guests and even the students themselves suggested that in the long run, members of the graduating class may be better off for the unprecedented challenges that have marked their last months as seniors at the school.
School officials published a virtual commencement ceremony on Friday, June 12, a video spliced together to include all of the conventional elements of a graduation – from remarks of high-achieving students, to presentation of diplomas – while keeping the students distanced as required by current state mandates.
“This has not been an easy experience,” said Principal Michael Whaley. “It has been life-altering for all of us.”
“I want to acknowledge the grief that does exist for the Class of 2020,” Whaley said, pointing to the pandemic that has kept the students separated since March. “You have been asked to make unprecedented sacrifices. But you have played your part. You have finished strong and earned your right to be here today. You have seized this opportunity and made it your own.”
The idea of seizing the opportunities, even when life doesn’t go as planned, and growing stronger as a result, was a central theme in remarks throughout the unconventional ceremony.
Senior Class President Makayla Mauricio noted that members of the class have had, “countless chances to give up.”
“But we have learned that giving up is the birthplace of regret,” Mauricio said. “I challenge this class to not fear failure, but to instead be terrified of regret.”
“The Class of 2020 does not shy away from their future when faced with a challenge – or perhaps, when faced with a pandemic,” Mauricio added. “We have overcome a lot. That will make us strong and capable for the challenges that lie ahead.”
Salutatorian Ashley Plante noted that her classmates have volunteered to help others through the pandemic, from delivering groceries to elderly neighbors, to helping to care for their families and siblings.
“We are a class of hard working people that all wish to see good in the world,” Plante said.
“Recently, it has been easy to see the negatives and get down on ourselves, but the situation we are in has made it even easier to appreciate all of the good things that people are doing, not only to help those they know, but also to help complete strangers,” Plante said. “This is a class full of essential workers.”
Whaley presented the Bronco Awards, given to students who made significant contribution to the community during their high school careers. The award, which takes into account school service, community service, athletic excellence, extracurricular participation and school spirit, was given to Allyson Graves and Korben Howard.
The Blue and White Award, given to Broncos who stay true to goals in the face of adversity and inspire others to be better, was given to Matthew Martin and Celeste Roux.
Supt. Michael Sollitto congratulated the class on navigating the challenges of their final months as Burrillville High School students.
“The class of 2020 has been incredibly resilient, achieving at high levels while dealing with the uncertainty of the situation,” Sollitto said.
Valedictorian Mitchell Dailey discussed how the class, and society as a whole, can choose is to learn from the experience.
“For the rest of our lives, few, if any challenges that we face should stack up against those posed by this pandemic,” Dailey said.
“As we begin the next chapter of our lives, the future is full of uncertainty. Most of us don’t know where we’ll be three months from now, whether campuses and businesses will be open, what the job market will look like or whether everything will just be back to normal,” Dailey said. “The best thing we can do right now is stay optimistic, and be ready to adapt to new changes just as well as we have adapted to distance learning and everything else.”
Vice Admiral Walter Carter, president of the University of Nebraska and a graduate of the BHS Class of 1977, gave the commencement address, noting that 90 percent of this year’s graduates are headed off to college.
“What an amazing accomplishment in a year when you’ve had to show strength, courage and resiliency in an unprecedented pandemic that not only affected Rhode Island, but our country and the entire world,” Carter said, noting that one graduating senior completed his work even as his parents were diagnosed – and recovered – from Covid-19.
“It just speaks again to Burrillville resiliency,” Carter said.
“What this pandemic has taught us is worthy of a life lesson,” Carter said. “The world is an unpredictable place. Often, we have an idea of what our future is going to be, and I’m telling you, it will be unpredictable and it won’t always go as you want it to happen.”
“Remember, there’s another door, another window that will open and don’t be afraid to go through it and take on that next challenge with all the resiliency, the courage and the talent that you got from Burrillville High School.”
Plante pointed to a quote from the Disney movie Mulan noting, “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”
“We had the unique opportunity of learning of life’s unpredictable changes before we are set free into the real world, whatever that is,” Plante said. “This is not the first and last time that there will be a bump in the road.”
“We are entering the world in a time of fear,” Plante added. “We know that giving up is for rookies and that change is good. We have been through a lot but it has only made us stronger. Don’t let this pandemic define you.”