Editor’s Note: Ahead of graduations this year, we will be reposting coverage from 2020 in a special look back series.
Helena Yawin, valedictorian of Plainville High School's class of 2020, speaking behind a makeshift podium Friday night set up on the edge of her school's parking lot, issued a challenge to her fellow classmates.
“As we step into this next phase of our lives, we have the chance to decide what we want the world to be,” Yawin said. “We can ignore these issues and pretend that everything will return to normal, or we can rise to the challenge and mold the world into what we want it to be.
“So I challenge all of you to look at the next years of your life with a different lens then when entering high school: instead of fearing the unexpected, demand it, because when we stop fearing change then we can truly move forward,” Yawin said, addressing the gathering from behind a podium that had been wrapped in a banner-sized copy of the class's yearbook photo.
Shortly after she spoke, Yawin and her fellow graduates, 160 in all, would approach in vehicles tables set up along the edge of the parking lot, where staff members waited to hand out diplomas. Graduates, wearing their traditional blue and white caps and gowns, then stepped out of the vehicles to retrieve them. The sounds of cheering and applause were replaced by the honking of car horns, as graduates walked back into their vehicles, which then drove under a blue-and-white balloon arch.
Graduates and other speakers acknowledged the fact their school year was abruptly halted in mid-March, leading to events like prom, concerts and athletic contests to be canceled entirely.
Yawin urged her fellow graduates to appreciate those “unplanned parts of life,” describing them as opportunities.
“Not knowing what's going to happen next can lead to several outcomes: panic and worry, or it gives us the opportunity to reframe the narrative,” the valedictorian said, directly referencing how life has been altered due to the pandemic. “.. Despite how much was changed because of the virus, all of us were still able to form our own memories and even have a graduation,” she said.
Plainville Town Councilor Christopher Wazorko, whose own daughter Olivia was among the graduates, acknowledged the challenges posed the past few months.
“You've been tested far more than anyone expected when the year began and you have aced it,” Wazorko said, telling graduates to “be proud and confident of what you have accomplished.”
Class salutatorian Christopher St. Lawrence alluded to some disappointments posed by the abrupt ending of in-person classes and other school activities. He specifically referred to a jazz band performance that he and fellow band members had diligently rehearsed for that ultimately would not happen.
St. Lawrence described such an abrupt ending to rehearsals without a final performance as having felt “incomplete.”
But, he urged his fellow graduates to not to dwell on the past few months and to “remember that you haven't peaked yet.”
“Everything we've done so far isn't the final product,” he said, noting other life milestones, which he referred to as “ramps,” are still to come.
Plainville High School band director Dominic Talotta told graduates “no class has ever been more equipped” to face life obstacles as theirs.
“... and we will watch with pride,” Talotta said. “The tables will turn. We will start to learn from you. I know I already have.”