SILVER LAKE — A year ago, the Letchworth Central School Class of 2020 may have been anticipating a graduation in the last weekend of June. Instead, weeks after school ended, the 79 seniors came together Saturday for the last time before starting on separate paths.
The ceremony that marked their completion of high school took place at the Silver Lake Twin Drive-In Theater and included parting words from Valedictorian and Class President Pierce McPherson, Salutatorian Alexia Lescher and commencement speaker and English teacher Kara Bonn.
Graduates also heard a speech on behalf of a classmate who passed away tragically in fourth grade as well as the district’s take on John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
“As you look around the drive-in, I realize this is not the graduation as you imagined it a year ago. Last year, we watched the Class of 2019 say their goodbyes and looked forward to our last year of high school — the last and greatest of them all,” McPherson said. “I need not tell you how events actually unfolded. Much of what made senior year so special was taken away — spring sports, prom. Despite all that was taken, we stand here today. Despite not having physically been in school since March, we stand here today to graduate, to receive our diploma, to move forward.
“This experience has offered us a great lesson,” he continued. “We must be resilient in the face of challenge. We must not only take punches, we must deal them, too. Let not our uniqueness define us, but empower us to move forward.”
Lescher recalled what it was like to come to Letchworth in eighth grade.
“You all welcomed me and made me feel like I was at home,” she said. “I must admit, it was kind of weird coming here from having a class of 400 students, but you all made me realize that Letchworth is the school for me. The Letchworth community is so caring and positive and all of you have made high school enjoyable. With social distancing, I wasn’t sure if a graduation ceremony would be possible and we all worked way too hard not to have one, but Letchworth has made this possible and I am so happy to graduate with all of you.”
Lescher thanked her family, friends and teachers for being there to support her.
“Parents, whether you realize it or not, you have a huge impact on your children,” she said. “Teachers, you are incredible. Throughout my time at Letchworth, you have been so caring and influential. Whenever a student is in need, you’re always there to help and you have been great in guiding us through high school and helping us figure out who we are and who we are going to be.”
To her classmates, Lescher said, “I’d like to thank you the most for getting this far. You did it! We’re graduating! You should all feel super-proud to have graduated. Your hard work has definitely paid off.”
AS THE GRADUATES SAT, they listened to a speech on behalf of Riley Helmer, who died in an accident in November 2011, while in the fourth grade at Letchworth. Elementary School Principal William Bean IV came up to the podium.
“I’ve been given the honor to speak about one of your classmates, Miss Riley Helmer,” he began. “I’m sure she is here, looking down at us from heaven with a big smile on her face.”
Bean said the gifts Riley left to the graduates — and adults, for that matter — were lessons she lived by every day.
“If you ever talked with Riley, she was present at all times. She looked you in the eyes, hers wide open, taking in everything you said,” the principal remembered. “She had a gift for communication and listening. She made you feel special. As you walk through life, please be present when talking to others. Put your phone down and make people feel special ... Riley always did.”
For Riley’s second lesson, Bean talked about her smile.
“It was contagious. The smile of a child can change the world,” he said. “As I shared what I wrote about Riley with one of my teachers, they said, ‘Mr. Bean, I so remember that smile.’ Share your smile as often as possible. It really can make a difference, as Riley did with us.”
BONN SAID she had the pleasure of teaching the Class of 2020 in both eighth-grade and 11th-grade English Language Arts. She said the graduates had gotten surveys asking for their responses so she and they could reminisce together at graduation.
“Your favorite Middle and High School memories were Spirit weeks, sports, the Whale Watch, the Mud Run, kickball tournaments, lunch table laughs and how much fun the dances and movie nights were. No matter what your answers were, all of your favorite memories were surrounded by laughter and fun. Those are the memories that I hope you cherish 10 years from now when you think back to your high school experience.”
Bonn said a common theme in many of the novels she and the class read together was that one person can, and does, make a difference.
“I implore you to be yourself and have conviction,” she told the class.
AS GRADUATES CAME UP to receive their diplomas, awards they had received were announced as well. One new award was the Cori L. Shearing Memorial Award, named in memory of 2018 Letchworth graduate Cori Shearing, who died in April in a crash. The award went to Gabrielle Goodrich.
SUPERINTENDENT TODD CAMPBELL and Bean were on the stage toward the end of the ceremony. Campbell reminded the class that every year at graduation, he tries to do something unique.
“I have rewritten the song of one of your favorites — the lyrics — and, with the help of Mr. Bean, I’m going to sing it for you now,” he said. “I want you to crank your radios. We’re going to turn this place into a concert.”
With that, the superintendent and Elementary School principal turned John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” into a Letchworth-style song. The first verse was:
“Letchworth Central, Wyoming County
Cows are plenty, sunset scenic waterfalls
Life is good here, it’s painted on the sky
Now it’s graduation, see how time flies by.”
And the chorus was:
“Country roads, take me home
to the place I belong
Letchworth Central, never forgotten
Take my home, my country roads.”
BEFORE GRADUATION, Lauren Royce, who will attend SUNY Oswego to study journalism and possibly minor in linguistics, told The Daily News the way senior year was cut short was sad, but added, “What are you going to do?”
“You just have to roll with the punches when it came to this,” she said. “I’m grateful for everything our school has tried to do for us. We got goodie bags, a 2020 sign that got made. They really tried to make it feel as normal as possible with everything that happened.
“I’m really just grateful for all of the teachers that I’ve had and everything that I’ve gotten to do,” she said.
Asked about COVID and whether it’s had an effect on her future plans, she said, “It was really difficult for me to decide if I really wanted to go to college, but I realized I didn’t have much of a better plan staying here and trying to find a job for a year. I knew that it was important for me to continue my education journey and things that will be different will be sports. I plan to swim and I don’t know how that’s going to go, but I know I’ll still get to do some regular things when I go, so I thought it would be fun.”
Clayton Cousins was asked how things were going.
“A little crazy, but good so far,” he said. Cousins said a lot of people were out along the side of the road to watch the procession which brought the seniors and their families from the school to the drive-in. The soon-to-be graduate said senior year was fun and exciting, despite the disruption of COVID-19.
“It’s a little different, something to remember,” he said.
Cousins said he worked a lot during the spring, but also had time to hang out with friends. He said the school did a good job coming up with the outdoor graduation at the drive-in. Having one ceremony for the entire class was also something he liked.
“At least you can see everyone for the last time before they all disperse,” Cousins said.
Cousins, of Silver Springs, said he plans to attend Alfred State to study diesel tech, a two-year program.
“No online — everything I’m doing is hands-on right now,” he said.
Charlotte Book said she got to work a lot this spring, which was good.
“I got some good experiences in for school, for college. I saw my friends a few times. It was a little different, but it wasn’t that bad,” she said. “I worked at Table Rock Farm, Inc. (in Castile) and Broughton Diversified Farming, LLC (in Silver Springs).”
This spring, Letchworth had some group activities for the class, such as a yearbook signing.
Book is continuing her studies at Cornell University as a plant science major.
“They’re doing a hybrid model, so both online and in-person classes. and we are able to go back in the fall,” said Book, who will live on campus.