During Saturday’s Commencement Exercises for Warren County Schools’ Class of 2021, speakers challenged graduates to allow the strength and determination they developed during the COVID-19 pandemic to fuel their adult lives by facing challenges with perseverance.
Graduating seniors from Warren County High School, Warren Early College High School and Warren New Tech High School gathered at the WCHS football stadium before a stage with large lettering reading “We Are One” to celebrate this milestone together.
One year after COVID-19 forced school systems across the nation to adapt graduation exercises, signs of the pandemic remained with safety precautions that included limited in-person attendance and the wearing of facemasks. Those who were unable to attend in person were not left out as a livestream of the event brought the excitement home to loved ones.
At the stadium, parents watched with anticipation, waiting to see their sons and daughters march onto the athletic field. With the first sight of the junior marshals and graduates, the stadium filled with cheers celebrating the Class of 2021.
Speakers agreed that the cheers were well-deserved, especially for this graduating class who adapted to adapted to a new way of instruction — virtual learning alone or what later became a combination of in-class and virtual learning.
Warren County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mary Young told the graduates that they gained strength that could only be developed through challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and personal obstacles they had to overcome. She described the seniors as fierce and strong.
“Never be embarrassed by your struggles,” Young said. “You have developed the maturity to pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off and move forward. You developed that muscle.”
She reflected on the meaning of a high school diploma.
“A diploma is not just something hanging on a wall,” Young said. “It is a social contract honoring legends, your parents and the other people on whose shoulders you stand.”
She challenged graduates to build upon this strength and move forward to create their life stories.
Board of Education Chairwoman Ebony Talley-Brame described the Class of 2021 as enduring.
“Your flexibility, tenacity and determination have gotten you here today,” she said.
Talley-Brame encouraged the seniors to respect those less powerful than they are, to be thankful for parents, educators and friends who helped them reach the milestone of graduation, and to move forward to boldness.
“Be bold, be courageous, be your best,” Talley-Brame said.
Principals from the three high schools encouraged graduates that lessons they learned through challenges have prepared them for life after high school.
Warren Early College High School Principal Shena Judkins reminded graduates that they never gave up in spite of the pandemic and reminded them to use the tenacity they developed in facing challenges.
“Hold fast to your dreams and never give up,” she said. You can do anything. Work hard to make your dreams come true. Be thankful for those who support you and those who don’t. Let them fuel you.”
Warren New Tech High School Principal Dr. Brian Matney said that the graduating seniors have not only faced circumstances that have been called everything from unprecedented to unfair, but have thrived.
In wishing God’s blessings for the graduates, Matney noted that the fortitude and tenacity they developed have equipped them to do remarkable things.
“You could change our world,” he said.
Warren County High School Principal John Green agreed that the graduating students never gave up.
“You are here today because of God, your parents and teachers. You didn’t give up on learning,” he said.
Green referred to the WCHS mascot, the eagle, saying that eagles fly above storm clouds and are difficult to bring down.
“Keep your heads held high, spread your wings and keep flying … and you will reach your destination of success,” he said.
Student speaker Evelin Funes Sorto of Warren Early College High School expressed appreciation to teachers and school staff members who made a difference in students’ lives.
“The Class of 2021 will strive to make you proud,” she said.
Warren New Tech High School student Kniya Purnell presented a tribute to parents.
“You have done the work God gave you,” she said. “If you could receive a diploma today, you would graduate with highest honors.”
Warren County High School senior Bradford Harris provided the farewell, challenging members of the graduating class to reflect over their years of school as carefree days of kindergarten gave way to greater challenges as students progressed through elementary school and middle school. These experiences shaped who the students would become as they entered high school with more of a feeling of accomplishment and maturity, he noted. After two years of typically high school activities, everything changed.
“In our junior year, COVID-19 changed everything,” Harris said.
As he asked God’s blessings for the graduates, he challenged fellow members of the Class of 2021 to apply the lessons learned through the pandemic to the rest of their lives.
“We made it through the pandemic. We endured,” Harris said. “We made history because we endured.”