Samantha Slager approached the podium to address her classmates. Grandville High School’s Class of 2020 president looked out upon the parking lot and began to speak.
“The Class of 2020 has been through a lot together,” Slager said to the crowd. “In fact, I think I can officially say we go down in the record books for having the craziest senior year of all time.”
The COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t stop Grandville High School from holding its graduation ceremony. Hundreds of cars packed the school parking lot to celebrate the Class of 2020 just about a month before many of the students head off for a fresh start in college.
Slager mentioned the hectic fun that senior year brings regardless of circumstances, including school dances and filling out college applications. She then highlighted that before COVID-19 even hit, things were already unique for the Class of 2020.
The Triple E virus forced GHS varsity football games to be played in the late afternoon instead of the evening. This was an attempt to avoid peak mosquito hours, through which the virus was transmitted. The virus also pushed the homecoming ceremonies indoors.
The senior class even lost the homecoming competition “spirit jug” trophy to the sophomore class, something that hasn’t happened more than a couple times in its multiple decades of existence. The Class of 2020 was having an unusual senior year before COVID-19 even arrived.
And then it did.
“The last two months of school being canceled was something none of us could have predicted, and there’s no doubt how disappointing it was to miss out on the final wrap-ups of high school,” said Slager. “But that never stopped us. We persevered through all these hardships and stayed strong together. That’s something that we can hold onto forever.”
Grandville High School principal Adam Lancto echoed Slager’s optimism, as he too addressed the crowd.
“A quick and painful lesson to learn that life is not fair was met by creativity and unity by our seniors,” said Lancto. “We are especially proud this year of the accomplishments of our students and look forward to their continued contributions as doctors, accountants, ministers, artists, musicians, teachers, business professionals and parents of the future.”
Getting a safe ceremony to commence required a different look than normal. While the ceremony usually takes place indoors, the outdoor option provided much more space for guests to socially distance.
Each graduate was allowed to bring one vehicle containing as many family or guests that could fit. They parked in a spot and had to remain inside the vehicle until administrators acting as ushers dismissed rows to get out of their vehicles and head to the adjacent football stadium where the stage was. Graduates and their guests were required to wear masks during the walk to the stage, where their name was called and they walked across the stage as guests could snap pictures from a distance.
Then, they had to return to their vehicles once more until Superintendent Roger Bearup approached the stage for the presentation of the Class of 2020. The graduates stepped out of their vehicles, turned their tassels over and threw up their caps as Bearup “dismissed” class for the final time.
“I know that every one of us could say that although it wasn’t perfect, we had an excellent four years at GHS,” Slager said. “So, as you leave high school — going off to college, the military, trades or whatever you choose — remember that you don’t have to live a perfect life. Live an excellent one.”