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Chester County Press

Kennett graduates look beyond the obstacles of their senior year

06/14/2021 09:30PM ● By Steven Hoffman

No speaker at Kennett High School’s graduation ceremony on June 12 managed to avoid a reference, in one way or another, to the chaos and disappointment that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The frequent refrain, however, was that the students were strengthened by what they went through.

Introducing her fellow student speakers, Class President Alondra Herrera-Esquivel said, “We all sit here today, six feet apart, but closer than we have ever been in the last 455 days. In the midst of heartache, loss, and pain, we have all – individually and collectively -- overcome the obstacles placed before us … I guess being known as the class that missed out on half, if not most, of their senior year was not the type of legacy we imagined we’d leave behind. Despite the world of firsts we faced in a year that should have consisted of many lasts, our reaction to the unprecedented circumstances was more powerful than the circumstances themselves.”

Marlen Cordova-Pedroza spoke of the distances they had come.

“This past September, instead of sharing schedules and our fears of getting lost, we had to face a new reality,” she said. “For many, this year has included lots of firsts. The first time learning how to connect virtually with our peers and teachers. The first time starting school from our own bedrooms, living rooms, or even basements. And for some, even the first time being able to wake up five minutes before class and still make it.”

Ryan Myers reflected on the meaning of time. “Friends, it has been 455 days,” he said. “Two weeks turned into two months, which turned into too many Zoom meetings, and, at times, felt like too much to handle. As positive cases climbed worldwide, time seemed to slow to a crawl. Each day felt like the last. We all asked ourselves, ‘How much time is left?’ How long until we can see our friends, play the songs and the sports we love, share handshakes, hugs, or even see the smiles on each other’s faces?”

Sydney Williams compared their current lives to her imperfect car.

“Our senior year was disrupted in every possible way,” Williams said. “Virtual. Rumors of hybrid. But wait . . .  we are still virtual. Finally hybrid. Then full time, but really only half time, because half of us were missing from the halls. We’ve learned to develop and strengthen relationships based on laggy Zoom calls, masked smiles, and elbow handshakes.”

Samuel Forte spoke of accelerating into the future.

“We've gone from preschool to kindergarten, through grade school and middle school, and now we’ve finally conquered high school. It wasn’t easy. No, we had a lot of turbulence. We had to struggle through assignments, midterms, finals, grueling practices, long days at school, long shifts at work, and plenty of meaningless drama.

He finished with an emotional, “So dream big, even if that dream seems too big, and fight for your dreams.” This drew enthusiastic cheers from his classmates.

Plans for the commencement ceremony for the class of 2021 presented a range of stumbling blocks to be overcome ahead of time.

The first was the obvious limitations for reopening in the face of COVID-19.

When the students arrived for graduation, they were asked to put on their masks as they assembled inside, but they were invited to remove them as they went outside and processed to their seats on the high school front lawn.

The second was the condition of the front steps. Walking down the widely venerated front staircase of the high school is a tradition that has been treasured for decades among the graduating students.

This year the steps were under construction and were walled off at the lateral edges. Still, there was room to accommodate the class, albeit those who walked appeared to be keeping their distance.  

The third stumbling block was an on-and-off weather forecast that forced the postponement of the ceremony from Friday night to Saturday morning. Superintendent Dr. Dusty Blakey said is was difficult at midday Friday to make the decisions for a delay because the forecast for rain kept changing. Shortly after 2 p.m. on Friday, the word went out that they would try for the evening show. But, just a few minutes later, they gave in to the prospect of showers arriving as a spoiler.

Prior to the ceremony on Saturday, both Blakey and School Board President Joe Meola said they agreed to withhold their turns at the podium comment periods in the name of brevity.

“The ceremony is really for the kids,” Blakey said.

As in the past, the graduates sat in rows on the common – girls in white, boys in blue. When it came time to receive their diplomas, they walked up the parking lot steps by rows and proceeded through the makeshift stage on the upper level.

Given that the show was outside on a lawn, there was plenty of room for audience and family members who sat in chairs, bleachers or just stood -- many with congratulatory balloons.

High School assistant principal Jeffrey Thomas announced that the 312-member class had accumulated $9.2 million in post-high school scholarships.

He also directed the audience as well to peruse the program’s generously filled four pages of awards members of the class had received courtesy of local businesses and families.

The two most prestigious awards, the Rupert Cup and the Advisor’s Cup were announced following the presenting of diplomas.

The Rupert Cup is the school’s highest honor given in recognition of scholarship, school spirit and service. It was given this year to Gavin Maxwell, and his name will be inscribed on a permanent trophy in the school.

The Advisor’s Cup is given to the student who has given time and service and has served as class president.  It was awarded to Herrera-Esquivel.

At the close of the ceremony, Class of 2017 member DJ Augustine welcomed the class to the alumni association.

Finally, in his understated closing remarks, high school principal Jeremy Hritz said it was not the kind of year people want to repeat. However, he bade the graduates well, and told them to go into the world and demonstrate what a Kennett graduate is.