It seemed "crazy" to think back to the "petty complaints" the Fort Calhoun High School class of 2020 had at the beginning of the school year like switching to Chromebooks or not being allowed to have backpacks in the classroom, valedictorian Kennedy Bradburn said.
"Now look at us, wishing we were back in school together walking across that stage," she said in a graduation video posted to the school's website Saturday morning.
The FCHS class of 2020 celebrated their graduation Saturday, the originally scheduled day, with a twist to normalcy due to restrictions and safety precautions for COVID-19.
A pre-recorded video with staff and student speeches was posted online at 10 a.m. with students arriving at the school in small groups to walk across a stage one at a time with their families. Then, at 2 p.m., the students hopped in cars, trucks and other types of vehicles for a parent-organized parade around Fort Calhoun.
As students began arriving at the school in small groups, they were greeted at the door by Supt. Don Johnson and Assistant Principal and Athletics Director Nick Wemhoff. One at a time, the students entered the gym where school board President Jon Genoways sat waiting to hand over each student's diploma. But before students turned their tassels, Principal Jerry Green, microphone in hand, announced each student's name echoing in what normally would have been a packed gym.
Valedictorian Grant Hansen, in his speech in the pre-recorded video, said it was ironic that the teachers and school staff, who worked so hard to provide a positive e-learning experience to students, couldn't stand and be recognized in the gym as they should be. Hansen called on his fellow students to retain a sense of perspective through the effects of COVID-19.
"It's up to those who remain unaffected to help those who suffer," he said, also calling on his fellow graduates to never take anything for granted. "None of us are really in as much control as we think we are. In light of that, we all should be more grateful for what we have and the life that we live everyday knowing it could be totally gone in an instant."
Forty-nine seniors yelled "thank yous" out to family members and friends dotted along numerous city streets along the senior parade route. Led by a Fort Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department fire truck, students rode in cars, trucks, golf carts and more vehicles to rounds of applause, "congratulations" and, at one point near West Market Square Park, silly string spraying in their direction.
FCHS counselor Micki Hernandez said 43 of the 49 students had completed nearly 1,000 credit hours of college courses combined while in high school, and students were going to be, among other types of professionals, educators, veterinarian technicians, wildlife biologists, welders and dental hygienists.
"What makes the class of 2020 so fantastic is the way they've already been exploring their passions," she said in the pre-recorded video.
Hernandez also said a record 34 students, or 70 percent of the class, had been approved for scholarships totaling more than $2.7 million dollars. Seventeen students were honor grads, Green said, graduating with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher.
Johnson, in the pre-recorded video, said he hopes the school can have a larger occasion to honor the 49 seniors later this summer.
"This is a bittersweet day for the families this year," he said, before offering words of advice to the class. "Know that you are always valued in these uncertain times. Know that you always have a home here at the fort. Know that we are very proud of you, and you have left your mark here at the fort. Perseverance is doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. The class of 2020, you embody the meaning of these words."
Bradburn, too, alluded to her and her fellow graduates' perseverance.
"Wednesday, March 11, was the last day this group of students attended Fort Calhoun High School together, and we didn't even know it," she said. "Difficult times are what makes us stronger and shape us to what we'll become … We have made history, and I have no doubt this class will continue to make history in the future."