Graduation looks different for Class of 2020

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A unique final few weeks of the 2019-20 school year were capped with a virtual graduation ceremony video and a Drive-Up Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2020 on Saturday, July 25.

This year's in-person graduation ceremony was scheduled for Sunday, May 31 at Alliant Energy Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison but was canceled due to COVID-19. The District had hoped to hold an in-person ceremony at Breitenbach Stadium on July 25 or 26 but with Public Health Madison & Dane County’s recent order limiting outdoor gatherings to 25 people or fewer MCPASD administrators deemed it impossible to make such an event work.

Instead, close to 400 Class of 2020 members participated in the Drive-Up Graduation Ceremony that began at 1 p.m. on July 25 in the parking lot adjacent to the Bristol Street entrance to MHS. Graduates had their name announced as they drove under two tents, were greeted by Superintendent Dana Monogue, CSCS principal Jill Gurtner and MHS principal Peg Shoemaker, received their diploma, and had their photo taken by a professional photographer. Each student will also receive a free 5x7 photo courtesy of the District.

The ceremony was also featured in the July 27 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal as part of its weekly School Spotlight segment. You can also check out a Google Photo Album with more than 500 images from the event.

The event was also live-streamed by the District. Nearly 2,000 people viewed the event live. The video is still available to be viewed.

In addition, a virtual graduation ceremony video was shared with Class of 2020 members and their families earlier on July 25. It was also posted to the District's Facebook page. The video includes speeches from class members, Sophia Patton, Julian Engle, Apurupa Ballamudi and Carter Brutosky, along with remarks from Gurtner, Shoemaker and Monogue, and the names and photos of every graduate. Patton also led graduates in the changing of the tassel

Engle kept his speech light, asking his fellow graduates not to dwell on what they missed after school buildings were closed in mid-March but to remember all of the good times they had in the previous 3-plus years. He also included video excerpts of classmates still playing basketball and performing musical numbers event though the MHS girls basketball team had its season cut short  when the WIAA state tournament was canceled and the spring musical also wasn't held.

"It's really hard to focus on the future when we haven't wrapped up our past,'' Engle said. "We missed out on so many things. We can either look back and mope about some of the things we missed or we can take time to do some of the things we missed. ... Each of us had something we had to say goodbye too soon. But take a moment to thing about the things we did experience.''

Ballamudi's speech celebrated the Class of 2020's past and present. She noted a lesson she learned in middle school about good stories having a beginning, middle and end. But she noted it can be challenging if the final chapter never comes or the final pages torn out, which is what this year feels like.

"What do you do when you are left to write the last pages of the story?'' Ballamudi asked.

She noted the person each graduate is today likely isn't the same person who walked into MHS or CSCS four years ago. She noted the time spent at games or activities or working with staff helped shape who graduates are today.

"Many of us would like to leave the bad parts behind,'' she said. "We want to forget our mistakes because we feel like failure defines us. ... But the only thing that can define us is the people we are today and what we choose to do with those experiences.''

Ballamudi also noted the pandemic has had a profound impact on the Class of 2020 and the experiences over the past few months will shape the graduates going forward.

"We are living in a new story. These last few pages will help determine the people we become as we get ready for a new story in our lives,'' Ballamudi said.

Brutosky's speech anticipated the future. He encouraged his classmates to focus on change and create a world where everyone can feel safe.

"We can all listen to each other,'' Brutosky said. "I learn more from a single conversation I have with someone I disagree with than 10 conversations wtih someone I agree with. Go into the world with your eyes and ears wide open. Be ready to have a dialogue rather than an argument.''

He noted there are plenty of challenges ahead, such as police brutality and the pandemic. He encouraged graduates to participate and help make change happen.

"Some think compromise is a dirty word. ... Compromise is about looking at your differences and finding a common ground,'' he said.

Patton led her classmates in the turning of the tassel.

"Graduation marks our final passage into adulthood,'' she said. "Although it might be intimidating, it is a special and powerful time in our lives. We have our whole future ahead of us but let's not forget where we came from. ... Take this time to reflect on your achievements and thank those who have helped you. Our time here has laid the groundwork for us to tackle any challenge.''

Gurtner and Shoemaker each spoke briefly before presenting the Class of 2020 for graduation and their diplomas.

"Among the graduates are some who have developed a deep appreciation for the messiness of learning and, therefore, the messiness of life. ... This group of Clark Street seniors truly embodies that spirit of community, risk and growth. It has served them well this year and as they leave us in these uncertain times,'' Gurtner said.

Added Shoemaker: "It is an honor to be able to celebrate with you as we come together to celebrate student achievement. ... You have reason to be proud of what you have achieved. As a class you have demonstrated a propensity to succeed in the largest of stages. You have displayed your talent, passions, skills and accomplishments. ... Each of you are essential to our future.''

Monogue noted the graduates entered the world during 9/11 and are leaving MCPASD during a global pandemic. She commended the graduates for their flexibility and resolve during these challenging times. She also praised the graduates for being teachers, too.

"Your generation has also taught us so much about acceptance, tolerance, strength and the power of love,'' Monogue said. "I am confident you will continue to learn, mature and lead us into the future.''