NK, Kingston seniors make the best of virtual graduation

Graduation ceremonies for high school seniors in the North Kitsap School District looked quite different this year due to restrictions on large gatherings resulting from the current COVID-19 pandemic. Working within the guidelines laid out by health officials, both Kingston High School and North Kitsap High School held virtual graduation ceremonies last weekend.

Families, friends, teachers, and staff did the best they could to offer these seniors a rewarding graduating experience without congregating to receive their diplomas. First up on Saturday were the 146 Kingston High School seniors.

“This is not the traditional graduation we were all looking forward to,” Salutatorian Natalia Sokol stated at the beginning of the ceremony. “We are not getting together in a stadium wearing our caps and gowns and personally receiving our hard-earned diplomas on the stage.”

“We are the people born around 9/11 who are now graduating in a pandemic. We are the generation of overcomers who are capable of adjusting to unexpected challenges … I wish you all a great celebration with family and friends and the best of success for you all in the future.”

Co-Valedictorians Montana Thoroughman and Abigail Steele also spoke on behalf of their class, looking back on an unpredictable year but vowing to move forward and reach for their goals and dreams when a sense of normalcy returns.

“We will not let this pandemic define our class. We are so much more than this,” Thoroughman said. “We are the class of 2020, a class of clarity and perfect vision. We are resilient and we will come out of this pandemic, ready for the futures we have all dreamed of for so long.”

“I’m a little terrified, and I don’t think I’m alone in that, but terrified and excited go hand-in-hand,” Steele stated. “There are also so many incredible opportunities, unopened doors, and uncharted paths to explore.”

The final speaker representing KHS was principal Jack Simonson, who recorded a statement just outside the front doors of the high school. Simonson, like many principals during this time, admitted he had a hard time coming up with the right words for his seniors, who have had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them in 2020.

“I’ve been struggling with what to say to a senior class that for the first time ever has had to watch their own graduation from home. How can my words in any way replace what is lost? The short answer is I can’t.”

“The iconic Mr. Rogers has famously said that ‘In a tragedy, look for the helpers. There are always people trying to help.’ Those words ring especially true now.”

“What I’m struggling with now, on a personal level, is that I haven’t been able to see you. My genuine hope is that as new graduates of Kingston High School, you’ll be more than just our latest group of alumni. My hope is that you’ll be the first class to start a new era. One that understands loss and how important it is to address loss with sacrifice, heart, and grace.”

On Sunday, North Kitsap High School held their virtual graduation ceremony of 280 seniors where principal Megan Sawicki began by handing off some words of wisdom as the students ready for a new journey into adulthood.

“Graduation is a true turning point in life, a moment of endings and beginnings, both for those who are graduating as well as for the families who helped you come to this point.”

“I would argue that how you work through the small challenges along the way will determine what happens when you hit the big and hard challenges. As you leave high school and your home to make your way in the world, let it be with passion. Let it be with energy, focus, and intensity.”

After a performance by the NKHS choir, the valedictorians and salutatorians had a chance to address their fellow seniors for what has been a whirlwind of a senior year.

“I don’t really see myself as qualified to come up here and tell you what to do or how to think in the future,” said valedictorian Abigail Ginn. “We’re all here for the same reason, we’re finished. Over a decade of work and finally, we’re all here to finish it off.”

“My experience in high school was drastically different than the person I sat next to in class. I know I can’t make a speech that will reach everyone the way I want it to because we’re all different with different futures and different experiences.”

“We’re often told to celebrate our differences but cautioned not to focus on them. To truly be together is to understand one another because of our differences, not despite them.”

Fellow valedictorian Henry Beddoe did his best to look on the bright side of such a unique graduation experience.

“For the past several weeks, every one of us has watched history unfold. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say that or some variation of that phrase. New norms and precedents are being set. How lucky are we, the class of 2020, to somehow be the center of attention in all of this?”

While there have been many moments recently where I have felt not so lucky, there have been so many more where I have felt truly blessed.”

Salutatorian Eleanor Beers touched on how influential social media has been for the class of 2020 and noted how it can be hurtful but also beneficial for folks to have their voices heard.

“Our generation is more interconnected than ever and yet sometimes it seems that we’ve never been farther apart. According to research, our generation is one of the loneliest ever. Whether we admit it or not, our screens have taken a toll on us.”

“Class of 2020, we will move forward, we are resilient. While we wait for a chance to get out and truly make a difference, we can stay connected. We all, each and every one of us, have the opportunity to make a difference in this country and in the world.”