Elba Class of 2020 ventures into real world

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ELBA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT Board of Education Vice President Mike Riner hugs his daughter, Isabella, after handing her her diploma.

ELBA — How will the Elba Class of 2020 continue to be the change the world needs?

That was a question class Salutatorian Morgan Harrington asked when she got up to speak Friday evening at graduation.

“If you look back on the years we spent together, you will see loads of mountains that we were asked to overcome. From the aftermath of 9/11 to the aftermath of a worldwide pandemic, we have stood strong and continued to pave the way for those behind us,” she said. “We must stand tall in the midst of said change and always remember that you are one decision away from making today great and tomorrow greater. As we move forward with the ceremony, I ask not only my classmates, but everyone in the audience to focus on how to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Treat each day like a new beginning and always remember to count your blessings, because you never know when a strange virus will take away your best memories.”

Speaking to her fellow graduates, Harrington said, “Despite the way this year ended, our hard work most certainly did not go unnoticed and most definitely did not go to waste. This feat will open many doors. However, graduation is not an end goal, but a small part in a big journey called life,” she said. “I hope everyone leaves here and hugs their loved ones, counts their blessings, brainstorms ways to make tomorrow better and reflects on how you’ve grown as a person.”

Harrington began her speech by thanking those who made graduation day possible.

“I cannot even begin to imagine a senior year with no graduation ceremony, although there were many unimaginable things happening in 2020 — a roller coaster of a year with many ups and downs that will be recorded in the history books and taught in classes to come. As difficult as this year has been, it has brought clarity and joy for many of us seniors,” she said. “This was the year we prepared ourselves for the real world. In 2020, we began to look deeper within ourselves and discover whether or not we have what it would take to be a full-grown, tax-paying, workaholic kind of adult. I am proud to say we all passed the test that is high school.”

Valedictorian Isabella Riner quoted the television cartoon character Scooby Doo’s famous line, “Ruh roh,” to express the apprehension the class felt about the COVID-19 pandemic and the school year in general.

“I can say that many of us are thinking the same thing about entering he real world. It seems scary that we might be entering a world that is not kind and not always logical. Every graduating senior that there has ever been has been faced with this reality,” she said. “We have an advantage because we are teenagers who have lived through, and been in the aftermath of, events such as 9/11, countless school shootings, the Boston Marathon bombing, race riots, a pandemic and a chaotic world that spares few. We have lived in a world where we practice what to do in case of a school shooter and in a world where terrorism exists and racism still runs rampant. We have lived through an era where every terrible thing that happens in the country and the world is broadcasted for everyone to see.

“Yet, none of these events define our generation, but they did help shape us. We are more aware of mental health issues. We are more aware of the injustices in our society based on race, money and greed. We are more aware of our surroundings and we can appreciate the acts of kindness that may seem trivial, but make a difference in this unforgiving world,” Riner said.

One thing all the graduates have is a childhood in Elba, Riner said.

“We grew up in a special community. We get to interact with kids all the way down to kindergarten, even when we are seniors. Our elementary teachers remember us all. We have teachers who loved our tight-knit school so much as a student, they came back as teachers. Every person in Elba knows what it is like defending our onions, going to numerous basketball games and knowing the life story of every person in this little town,” she said. “As much as we all say we get annoyed with the lack of privacy, very few people can say they grew up in a community that was as close as a family. This class has had a town that will back us up no matter what and will take pride in whatever we accomplish.”

Superintendent Ned Dale said over the weekend that the graduation was moved from Saturday morning to Friday due to concerns about the weather.

“It was neat to see the community come together to support a group of kids, knowing the limits we had,” he said. “There were many people who asked if this (the outdoor ceremony) was a new tradition because it was a nice night and ceremony. People really enjoyed the outside and the school as a backdrop.”

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