Salem Hills senior class president Zachary Hunter joked at the beginning of his speech at graduation Thursday that if someone had told him he would have been speaking from the roof of the school it would’ve sounded like a weird dream.
Spanish Fork senior Ellie Ash said Thursday that up until three weeks ago, she would never have dreamed of riding her horse Mack to graduation.
Timpview senior class president Jackson Bertasso was part of the committee tasked to sift through all the graduation ideas and create something memorable for the Class of 2020.
Then there these seniors were, adapting and doing the unanticipated as they celebrated their respective graduations.
“This graduation is anything but typical, but it shouts to the world that you cannot be stopped,” Salem Hills principal Bart Peery told the graduates from the roof of the school during the vehicle graduation ceremony.
Since normal graduations were impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each school came up with its own ways to adapt.
At Salem Hills, graduates came with their families and parked their cars in the student parking lot as if they were going to a drive-in movie. Speakers shared short messages from Peery, Hunter and valedictorians Bryn Riley and Sam Davenport.
“In a time of uncertainty, we need to control how we react,” Hunter told his class. “I invite all of you to look for others in need. Look for the ones on the sidelines and bring them in.”
Riley said that her class is facing a number of unknowns right now and will have to take them on just like they did high school.
“I wish I had a road map right now, but I don’t — and that’s the beauty of life,” Riley said. “We aren’t here right now because of one big leap. We are here because of a bunch of small steps.”
Davenport said that times of crisis can bring people together.
“Take time to consider who needs your help,” Davenport said. “In difficult times, we can offer comfort to others and in doing so lift ourselves.”
Spanish Fork chose to do a procession where graduates rode to the event with their families, then exited the vehicles to walk past cheering teachers around the school until they reached the podium near the main entrance. There they received their diplomas and got the traditional graduation photo with the decorated rock.
It was a festive experience as horns blared, confetti flew and families cheered.
It also allowed students like Ash to be creative. Her horse Mack might not have enjoyed all the noise but she said it was “pretty exciting” to be able to ride him during the graduation procession.
Other Don students brought dogs, rode bicycles, or wore personal hats (baseball caps or cowboy hats, for example) with the tassel attached instead of the traditional mortarboards.
The speeches for Spanish Fork graduates were delivered virtually later in the day.
“Graduating from high school can be a scary time,” senior class president Andrew Radford told the Don seniors in the prerecorded video. “We may not know what we are going to do after high school — but that’s OK.”
Spanish Fork senior valedictorian Max Colton told his peers that they have invested a lot of time to get to this point in their lives.
“Any time you accomplish a goal, do something hard or cross a finish line, we’ve done something great,” Colton said in the video.
At Timpview in the evening, seniors also had their families drive next to them as they walked past teachers and up onto the stage to receive their diplomas while “Pomp and Circumstance” blared in the background.
For Bertasso, it was rewarding to see everything come together.
“It was so much better than I could’ve ever imagined,” Bertasso said. “I got choked up so many times. It’s just so cool.”
He said the challenge of deciding what to do was a daunting experience.
“It was crazy at first and really stressful,” Bertasso said. “There were a lot of ideas. I tried to keep positive about things, although I know a lot of people were getting down. We just tried to make graduation as good as we could.”
Timpview principal Fidel Montero said he was pleased with the balance between giving the students a great graduation experience and keeping people as safe as possible.
“Tonight is the crescendo for these students,” Montero said. “What I hope they take away is that although this class lost a lot in terms of experiences, I hope they gained something as well. When things got tough, they were able to grow and be strong. I hope this celebration embodies that spirit.”
Bertasso said his message to the Thunderbird Class of 2020 is that it is stronger now.
“We’ve made it,” Bertasso said. “Even when there are struggles, we can keep going and do hard things.”