COUNCIL ROCK >> When the members of the Class of 2020 attended school on March 12 they had no idea it would be their last day together spent in the halls, classrooms, auditoriums and athletic fields at Council Rock North and Council Rock South High Schools.
“In many respects, the second semester for the Class of 2020 has been like one big busted play,” South principal Al Funk said during virtual graduation ceremonies on June 15. “This is not how we drew it up in the playbook. Who could have planned, predicted or envisioned what has transpired over the last several months?
“However, some of the most famous, some of the most talked about, some of the most spectacular plays in the history of football are busted plays,” he reminded the class. “Whether it’s a quarterback picking up a play after a fumble and completing a touchdown pass or a running back leaving his blockers, taking off in the opposite direction and finding daylight. These impromptu acts can be amazing.
“That is you, the Class of 2020,” he said. “Amazing and legendary in the face of adversity. And the qualities that it takes for a busted play to turn out successful are the very same qualities you exhibited, not only recently but also during the last four years.
“Grit and determination. Perseverance in the face of obstacles. Grace under pressure. Resilience and strength,” said Funk. “Class of 2020, this was not the play we had planned, but it is a spectacular play nonetheless.”
Between Council Rock North and South, close to 1,000 students graduated this year after completing their senior year in the midst of a global pandemic that forced them into isolation during what should have been one of the most memorable times of their young lives.
“This extraordinary year has served to both prepare and motivate them to approach the next phase of their lives with courage and daring,” said North Principal Susan McCarthy. “The Class of 2020 will standout in the next 50 years as a singular one in the legacy that is Council Rock, one that also establishes positive direction for all future classes.”
Student speakers from both schools lamented the loss of their senior trip to Disney World, the senior prom and a graduation day packed with family and friends, memories they will never be able to make. But they also sounded a sense of optimism as they prepared for the future.
“The Class of 2020 has lost a right of passage that has been embedded in our history since our great-great-grandparents,” said North’s senior class president McKenzie Farley in her address entitled “Hindsight is 2020.” “I did not think twice about not having graduation, going to senior prom, going to Disney because I thought those were a given.
“We have learned the value of not taking any day or anything for granted,” she said. “How were we supposed to know that March 12 - a weird cloudy Thursday - would be our last day. Our last day to see our teachers, our friends, the North halls. The last day to eat the infamous wraps or maybe an M&M cookie. Every single day needs to be cherished as if it’s our last good thing because honestly we don’t know that it will be. So as I’m standing here addressing an empty auditorium, I am making the most out of today and every day and I hope you will, too.”
North’s Emily Daly encouraged her classmates to “overcome” the struggles and fears in life and picture their next happy moment.
“Maybe it’s the day you see your best friend again and give them a big hug. Maybe it’s the day you move into your college dorm, meet your roommate and embark on your next journey. Or maybe that happy moment is right now as we are recognized for our achievements, congratulated for our hard work and begin the next chapter of our lives together.
“Today is a difficult day,” said Daly. “We watched our older siblings and friends experience this day with complete normalcy, donning cap and gown layered with cords, sashes and pins, crossing the stage with diploma in hand and saying goodbye to teachers, staff and best friends. This is meant to be a definitive moment in our personal coming of age movies. And while we will be experiencing something quite different today, I know we will come away with strength and hope.”
The Class, said Daly, has experienced so much in its short 18 years.
“We were born in a time of crisis following 9-11, an event we have no memory of, but shaped our childhoods ... During high school, we battled against the fear of school shootings and mental illnesses and worked hard to get those SAT scores.
“And now we face another foe,” said Daly. “Another struggle. It is easy to look back and see that struggle. But it is easier on the heart to look back and see every joyous moment,” she said. “All those small little moments of success, happiness and excitement, combined with those terrible moments of fear, anger and confusion, have built us into the people we are. And we are a class that overcomes.
“We have been through so much together, yet we are always able to grit our teeth and fight through it reaching for that next moment of body warming joy, cheek aching smiles and side-stitching laughter. I’d like to think the strength comes from inside all of us and shines when we come together. Yes, this is a difficult time. But so long as we continue to smile and look for that next happy moment I know we will be just fine.
“Look for that next happy moment with unwavering optimism and we can overcome any obstacle that dares cross our path,” she said.
In his remarks to the North graduates, Stephen Daniels spoke about how it hurt not getting to say a proper goodbye to his classmates and missing all those special events that make senior year memorable.
“We don’t get the senior year that the High School Musical promised us. And it hurts. We may never see the people we have spent a majority of our lives with again. And it hurts,” he said. “But one day, when it stops hurting so bad, we’ll have to think about how we will remember our time at the honeycomb windows.
“We all have to choose how we want to remember our time at Council Rock North. The thing about not having a proper ending and goodbye is that we have to make one for ourselves,” he said. “And now that high school is done, we have to decide how to use what we learned in school and from everyone who helped us get here.
“Although this is not the experience we dreamed of, we still get to chose who we are,” he told his classmates. “And I refuse to remember myself as a member of the coronavirus class. We are, we were, and always will be Council Rock North’s Class of 2020. And we are going to make the world a better place.”
South Class President Kevin McNamee said throughout the stay at home orders his family had an obsession with jigsaw puzzles. “We finished all sorts of puzzles. Putting together all those pieces had me thinking about how a puzzle is a lot like our experience here at Council Rock South.
“The first step of every puzzle is to pick out the edge pieces and create a framework. During our early awkward freshman days we found friends we liked to hang around and the things we liked to do,” he said.
After the border of the puzzle is complete, “you start to put together the similar pieces that you know just go together,” McNamee continued. “This is when we discovered with whom we shared common interest and found we actually had time to talk to one another between classes.
“The more and more you work at that puzzle the more you see the bigger picture and learn to appreciate what you accomplished,” he said.
“As our puzzle of high school was coming to an end we were told the last pieces would never be placed. The entire nation is being told we are in this together, but alone. And for us, the Class of 2020, we don’t want to be alone. We need to be together.
“We didn’t let those missing pieces get to us. Instead, we showed our resilience, made the most of the time we had with family and have joined together to celebrate the end of our Council Rock chapter," said McNamee. "We may not have been able to place every piece of this puzzle, but the image we created is still vivid and one which we can be proud of. We have to keep our heads up and look forward to the puzzles we will complete next.”
South speaker Lily DeSimone told her classmates that it’s time to wake up and do some adulting
“That alarm clock has been beeping for some time to tell you to get up and get ready for your future,” she said. “I’m not saying you’re not all mature, independent and strong, because you are. It’s just that sometimes we need a rather, well, huge, enormous, gigantic nudge toward the future. And if that isn’t high school, than I honestly don’t know what is.
“These four years prepare us to be responsible, intelligent and kind ... You learn things in high school other than the Pythagorean theorem ... You learn about real life. A life where you can’t be rid of that alarm clock ... Our alarm clocks are our reminder to look forward to the future ... High school is our final outside nudge toward the dream we imagined.
“Set those alarm clocks, preferably by yourself, because it’s time for some adulting,” she said. “Don’t worry. You will be perfectly fine. Just look to all the students, teachers, administrators and parents that have helped you become independent and take you future into your own hands. Your journey awaits.”
Jessica Wong spoke about Don Quixote who traveled across Spain in search of grand adventure and the chance to help others, only to be ridiculed by society for being to idealistic. He eventually renounces his dream.
“Much like Don Quixote’s adventures, the Class of 2020’s journey has been unique and not without challenges,” said Wong. “Like Don Quixote, each of us has endured many sleepless nights and putting countless hours of effort into bravely chasing our goals and discovering our own idealistic paths.
“This year with Covid-19, our class has had a truly unique journey, regretfully missed many milestones of senior year,” said Wong. “We have seen consistent resilience and encouragement from the community. We all had to navigate this new journey, but we did so while staying hopeful for the future.
“Follow your passions and better the world even in the face of a critical and polarizing society. Don’t give up like Don Quixote,” said Wong. “Now, more than ever, coronavirus has made clear that we don’t know what the future holds. But whether you are entering college, joining the military or workforce, you must harness Don Quixote’s original fervor, to chase after your interests even if the journey is grueling.
“Although this year is definitely not what we expected, we still have lifelong memories from high school. We have learned to be courageous, persistent and curious, to be honest, but kind, to be patient, generous and optimistic.
“So as we enter the next chapter of our lives, use these experiences as a foundation to forge your own unique path. In short, I hope we become idealists. I hope we will have the quixotic determination that Don Quixote had to explore and advance our communities and I hope that unlike Don we never forgo our passions because it seems like the world is against us."