Photo: Belmont High 2020 Class President Caroline Findlay addresses her classmates during the remote graduation broadcast Sunday, June 7.
There were the expected chestnuts of a Belmont High School graduation ceremony as the 329 members of the Class of 2020 were conferred their diplomas on Sunday, June 7.
The speeches, the national anthem – beautifully sung by Valentin Reynolds – the awards, a cappella singers performing, and the walk up to the stage to have a photo taken with the well-earned sheepskin.
Just that it didn’t take place in the normally sweltering confines of the Wenner Field House but on a computer or television screen.
There wasn’t the nervous march into the Field House, the beach balls, the cigars hidden in some young men’s suit jackets, shaking hands with school committee members while receiving their diploma, the caps thrown high and the gathering outside for photos (and cigars) with family. That experience, along with the prom and other graduation week activities, were struck down weeks before by the same pandemic effecting the world for the past four months.
It was a new normal for the Class of 2020 – a remote graduation in a virtual setting.
Class President Caroline Findlay spoke about the void her class was feeling saying “[t]here is no way to speak to you today without acknowledging the fact that our class has lost so much this year. Missing the supposed best three months of the last 13 years has been truly difficult because it has meant the loss of our final moments together as a class.”
The main message coming from her classmates, said Findlay, was that “we have each other.”
“We have encourage this message throughout our time in high school but over the past two years it has solidified what it’s meant to be a member of the Class of 2020. It is through this adversity that we faced, instead of focusing solely on ourselves as individuals, we all have shown up in supporting one another.”
“If you think about it, the challenges that our classes face over the past two years have provided us with an incredible set of tools to lean on as we force our path in our journey that lies ahead,” said Findlay.
Findlay and Belmont High Principal Isaac Taylor noted the passing of classmate Cleo Theodoropulos in 2019 and chorus teacher Sean Landers early in 2020.
“I watched as you the ways that you kept your beloved friend and classmate, close memory alive, showing love for her and her friends,” while being “moved by the respectful and loving kindness that so many of you showed, to the passing of a teacher, a friend and a fellow human being,” said Isaac, overseeing his first graduation in Belmont.
Noting that a “great teacher gets to know her student by getting beneath the surface, finding the insecurities and helping to strengthen them, noticing the gaps, and sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly teaching the skills to fill them,” Isaac said while the graduates had wonderful teachers that are proud of each student, “you are all pretty great teachers yourselves.”
“You have used your heart and your wisdom to guide one another through the loss of a friend and the loss of a teacher. Through the pandemic. Through the lockdown. You have supported each other through tragic tragedy and loss and uncertainty. You have gone beneath the surface and listened, understood, you have taught your parents and the faculty and staff at Belmont High School,” he said.
The Belmont School Committee bestowed its annual awards for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship to Samantha Widdison and Cynthia Lu.
“We are graduating during a pandemic, which hasn’t occurred in 100 years and in an economy as bad as the Great Depression. There are people in the streets fighting for justice, with intensity not seen since the 1960s,” said Widdison, who will be attending Tufts in the fall.
“We all have plans, our expectations for the future. It is up to us to decide what we make of unexpected situations. Whether we view them as obstacles or opportunities for personal growth. I use the opportunity of grades being pass fail this spring to fully embrace senior ‘slide.’ As we move on to the next chapter of our lives, let’s take one day at a time. Don’t worry about the unexpected. You are currently surviving a pandemic being quarantined with your family. You can survive anything,” she said.
Harvard-bound Lu told her classmates that “happiness doesn’t always have to come at a price or a sacrifice.”
“We are never too old to find delight in a snowman or a charity popsicle, or to dive headfirst into something new the way we used to jump into swimming pools, exploring new subjects and activities, meet new people and wander to new places, and soon you’ll find new homes.”
“While growing up often seems like a process of discomfort and less. I hope we remember that even when we fall and scrape our knees. We’ll have each other to help us up,” said Lu.
The ceremony proceeded and concluded with each graduate coming on stage in alphabetical order – which occurred a few weeks previous – to have their moment in the spotlight. If a viewer didn’t know Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March in D” they would after hearing it repeated to the nth degree during the presentation.
One theme that was highlighted throughout the celebration was that of shared hope. Findlay referenced the writer and encourager Nikki Banas on what can get her classmates through even the toughest times.
“Let it be hope that you are stronger than any challenge that comes your way. Let it be hope that you are exactly where you’re meant to be right now, and that you’re on the path to where you are meant to be. Because during these times hope will be the very thing that carries you through,” said Findlay.