By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
When the seniors at Tucker County High School exited the building in March, they were unaware that it would be the last time they inhabited that school. With West Virginia Governor Jim Justice closing schools for the health and safety of students and staff, over a quarter of their senior year went unexplored. With the Coronavirus still an issue that is changing daily, the graduation committee had to be on their toes to accommodate the most recent guidelines and regulations to host any events.
On Thursday, May 28, a baccalaureate event would have been what was expected; however, this year featured a parade style clap out. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., the senior class came to the school where they circled around the front parking lot where they were cheered on by several of the teachers and staff. They stopped briefly to say hello and were handed a packet containing any certificates or awards they would have gotten at a traditional baccalaureate, as well as a meal provided by the staff and cooked by Kenna’s BBQ. Gloves and masks were worn as well as proper sanitizing was taking place to maintain the cleanliness and safety for all involved.
Principal Stephen Cosner said, “These kids have missed so much, we are really trying to do everything we can to give them what we can while following the guidelines we have from the state.” He continued, “It’s not the same, but these kids deserve it.” “There have been numerous people working many hours behind the scenes and it is just because we love and miss these kids,” Cosner concluded. Vice Principal William Shahan reiterated much of what Cosner said, and added, “I am glad that the seniors are getting a finish to their high school career.”
On Friday, a graduation ceremony was planned which began at 9:30 a.m. The entire city of Parsons was decorated in black and gold balloons, ribbons, and banners showing their support for the class of 2020. Students were given a timeframe to gather at the former Shop N’ Save parking lot where they received a fire department or police escort to the annex parking area. Once they arrived, the student to receive their diploma and their four cars were parked front and center in front of an elegant stage where members of the board of education and high school administration awaited fully masked, gloved, and sanitized along with implementing social distancing. The entire event was also live streamed via social media for those who could not attend in person.
Sandy Shaffer sang The National Anthem followed by an opening address by Principal Cosner. “After a spring we will never forget and hours and hours of planning, we are finally ready to set some of the finest citizens of Tucker, Preston, and Randolph County who made Tucker County High School their home on their way,” he began. “My best advice to you right now is make your own story, don’t let others make it for you,” he said before introducing the graduates.
The first name called to receive their diploma was Senior Class President and Valedictorian, Cameron Mullenax. He began his speech by welcoming everyone to the commencement and introducing himself. “It’s a little weird that I’m speaking to you guys while you’re in your cars or at home, but let’s face it, this has unfortunately became the new normal and it’s not our fault that this has all happened in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Mullenax. He insisted to his classmates that all of their hard work to get where they are was not for nothing and this obstacle should not define who they are. Mullenax read a quote spoken by country music artist Tim McGraw commemorating the class of 2020. He recognized the support that has been shown by the community during this trying time and asks his fellow classmates to bear this in mind and give back to their communities. Mullenax thanked some of his most influential teachers, friends, and family before he concluded his address. He then passed the baton to the incoming senior class president, Gracie Rapp.
Mary Carr was the first of three salutatorians to take the stage and share her address. She too acknowledged the unconventional circumstances, though encouraged everyone to make the best of the situation. “This is our time,” said Carr. “We have made it through four years with some amazing memories to look back on,” she stated. No matter which direction her classmates are going after graduation, her hope is for everyone to remember one another and cherish the class of 2020. Carr thanked her parents, grandparents, extended family, friends, and staff for making them the graduates they are today. To conclude her speech, she said, “Wherever we may go, wherever we may end up, whatever we might do, we should do it with all our heart.” She wished her classmates the best on their future endeavors before exiting as a TCHS graduate.
The second salutatorian was Rachel Spencer who delivered an emotional address to all those listening. As she explained how her speech came to be, she said, “I knew that I wanted to glorify God, and once I acknowledged the presence of God, the rest of my speech came very easy.” Spencer continued, “If it weren’t for God, I wouldn’t be here today, and I don’t just mean this position, I mean physically standing here right now giving this speech, because this is absolutely terrifying.” “My speech is based upon God because my life would have no foundation without him,” she said. Spencer acknowledged her teachers, friends, and her family for their support throughout her life. She concluded her speech citing Romans 8:28 that she and her family live by, “And we know that all things work together for good for them that love God, for them that are called according to His purpose.” She congratulated her classmates and wished them the best for their future endeavors.
Jordan Teter, the third salutatorian for the class of 2020, was called to the stage. She reflected on their first day at TCHS and how intimidated yet confident they were. “We were all so sure we were going to graduate like it was another birthday or even the next day of our lives,” said Teter. “It was never promised, but we were all sure it would happen,” she stated. Time was something she and her classmates felt they had plenty of, but looking back she expressed how fast her time at TCHS has gone. “We thought we had time and obviously we were all bombarded by an enormous amount of people who told us that high school would be the quickest and best years of your lives, but somehow we didn’t believe them,” Teter continued. “But now that I’m standing here giving my speech, it all makes sense,” she confirmed. Now she will be one of those who tells others how great yet fast high school will go. She quoted the inside of a Dove chocolate wrapper that she felt fit this situation, saying, “Life happens between an inhale and an exhale,” which she fully understands now. Teter encouraged her classmates to not take advantage of time and to live life to the fullest. She concluded her speech by thanking her parents, friends, family, Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School and TCHS for making her the person she is today.
The ceremony continued with the remaining six students to complete the top 10 in their class. Each student entered in their own fashion, some with balloons, signs, and even one student, Nathan Dearborn, driving a Peterbilt semi up to the stage while announcing his presence with the air horn. Though it was far from a traditional graduation ceremony, the best of a difficult situation was made.