247 students received their high school diplomas Friday

Pierce County High School’s Class of 2020 was already destined to make history Friday night as the first class to graduate from the new high school. They made history in a number of other ways too, including becoming the only class to graduate in the middle of a world-wide pandemic and the first to graduate in July.  

The sight of 247 blue-clad grads on the field with the time-honored graduation ceremony at Bear Stadium Friday night brought some sense of normalcy in a year that has been anything but ordinary.

Originally scheduled for May 22, the ceremony was postponed owing to the threat posed by COVID-19 (coronavirus).

As the sun set Friday evening, temperatures dropped to the mid-80s with a cool easterly breeze during the ceremony.

Crowd size was limited to six guests per graduate and those in attendance wore masks and practiced social distancing as a result of the threat posted by COVID-19 (coronavirus). Common surfaces on the podium on the dais were sprayed down with disinfectant after each speaker.

Valedictorian Kade Scott  related says he had always been told “senior year goes by so fast.”

“... I don’t think a global pandemic bringing it to a halt is what everyone had in mind when they told me that,” he said, pausing for effect. “(We had) one last year, and what a year it has been, though the last few months feel like a year in and of themselves.”

Scott reflected on the class’ memories of their time together, while at the same time looking toward the future.

He used the school system’s motto, “Excellence is the Standard,” as a focal point for his remarks.

“... (T)he first time I read this, I thought it was extremely cheesy. As the days turned into years, however, the more real it became. There is something most definitely unique about Pierce County High School.”

Scott said the theme is not summed up in knowing everyone personally, or multiple state champion athletic programs, or an award winning band or a state champion one act team or being ranked in the top 10 in the state in academic ranking.  

“It is the fact that the list goes on. There is truly excellence within this school, and we have been so fortunate in experiencing this excellence for four whole years,” Scott said.

Scott thanked all those who helped the class including the “extraordinary staff at PCHS,” teachers and parents, grandparents and caregivers. Scott especially thanked his own grandparents who raised him.

In searching for inspirational quotes, Scott quipped that many were too difficult for him to understand, so he reached back to a rhyme from Dr. Seuss.

“‘You have your brains in your head. You have your feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself. After 12 years of receiving information and knowledge, now is the time we put it to good use,” he told his classmates. “We have formed unbreakable bonds and made unforgettable memories, but now is the time to begin a new chapter in our lives. We each are faced with a fresh, blank page, and it is our duty to pick up the pen and write our own stories, so let’s each write unforgettable chapters filled with the fulfillment of our dreams and desires.”

He encouraged his fellow graduates to live life to the fullest.

“To my fellow grads, I encourage you to follow a direction in life that allows you to be the happiest version of yourself because, when it is all said and done, that is the only thing that truly matters,” Scott advised.

Salutatorian Hannah Belew acknowledged the class’ experience the last few months of their senior year “had not been ideal.” She noted the pandemic had created “absolute chaos” at the end of what should have been their senior year, but she looked back at happier times she experienced at PCHS.

Belew related memories from “fun, dull and difficult classes” including the transition to online learning after the pandemic canceled school the last two months of the year.

“Today, I’d like to thank all of those people that were friends to me whether long-term or temporary. I believe all of the friendships and relationships we have all experienced through the years have led us to where we are today—ready to take on the world! So as we sit here today, I am thankful for all of my classmates and the memories we’ve shared,” Belew said.

She thanked her Mom and Dad for their support including her Dad for his lectures and thanked all those in attendance at the ceremony.

“We all appreciate your being here under these unusual circumstances,” she said.

Despite the heartache of lost time and potential memories, she encouraged her classmates to not focus on the last two months, but on the future, while acknowledging the future is uncertain.

“Some of us already had specific plans for after high school that cannot be fulfilled now. But if these last few months have taught us anything, it is that we can survive missing out on some of what we have come to know as normal,” Belew said. “Although we may not get to experience all of the things we had planned, I believe there is a bright future waiting for us all. We may still have to endure some unusual circumstances in our next phase of life, but we have proven that we can get through it.”

Belew also thanked the community for honoring them and making them feel special during the last few months.

“Although this was not the ending that we have looked forward to, I’m thankful that we still had the opportunity to celebrate this day,” she said.

Senior Class Officer Arius Jaeden Lincoln gave the inspiration for the class encouraging his classmates to live life to fullest in whatever they choose to do. He noted several classmates who are already chasing their dreams and several others who have already gone to serve their country in the armed forces.  

Senior class officer Kenzie Leigh Wolff welcomed the crowd and introduced the Class of 2020. She also  led the pledge to the flag.  Kearington Moore gave a special recognition that included thanks to parents, faculty, staff and the community. She also led in a moment of silence for fallen classmate Justin Lynch who died in December 2018.

A senior ensemble led graduates in the class song, “A Million Dreams”. The ensemble also performed a rendition of Tim McGraw’s song “Humble and Kind” in a dedication to parents. The ensemble included Lincoln, JoHannah James, Ella Kate Crews, Cole Tomlinson, Kameron Ebersole and Rebekah Davis.

Senior class advisors Robbie Spires and John DuPont presented the Class of 2020. Former Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith presided over his last graduating class of his 39-year career in education. New Superintendent and Former PCHS Principal Dara Bennett presented diplomas and Smith verbally congratulated grads as they walked across the stage. The traditional congratulatory handshake was omitted due to the pandemic.

Senior class officer Caroline Paige Herrin gave the benediction.

Graduates participated in the traditional cap toss at their seats as Spires declared them alumni of PCHS and the ceremony concluded.