After a year of unique challenges, ‘Here’s to the Class of 2020’

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Caroline Kopfmann sings, "Here's to the Class of 2020," a song she wrote and performed for her graduating class.

MONROE, CT — Graduates from Masuk High School’s Class of 2020 shared stories of their experiences over the past four years during their commencement ceremony Friday, and administrators wished them well in a series of speeches shared in an untraditional way.

Families and friends of the Class of 2020 tuned in to a YouTube video to listen to pre-recorded speeches due to social distancing efforts brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The following are short excerpts from each speaker:

“Yes, you’ve hit some adversity this past year. Yes, you’re not going to get the high school graduation you expected, or the prom or the dances or other parties. You will not have the ability to visit colleges for accepted student day.

“But adversity comes throughout your life. It’s not the first time you faced it and, I hate to tell you, it won’t be the last time you face it.

“All you need to do is get up — the sun will come up tomorrow — and keep pushing forward.” — Donna Lane, chairwoman, Monroe Board of Education

“We are leaving high school with a passport stuffed with four years of memories, but more importantly the opportunity to start filling another blank book. This time though, it is our responsibility to seek out new experiences as we enter college, the military or the work world.

“We cannot rely on our parents and teachers to create events and memories for us any longer. We are ready to take control of our own lives, explore the world and fill our next passport with the stamps we choose. Good luck to the Class of 2020 and enjoy your travels.” —  Rebecca Young, salutatorian

“As we look ahead toward our future and to the next step, it feels like we are constantly pushing to speed things up, hurry and reach the destination. We anxiously deliberate the future and think about reaching the next milestone: When will I graduate? When is my first day of college? When will I get a job, a house?

“We are motivated by an urge to fulfill our goals and, ideally, we would like to skip to the next destination. However, quarantine forced us to slow down, appreciate our current situation and the people around us.

“Everyone warned us that high school would pass by in the blink of an eye and it seemed that these last four years really did, so on graduation day we are ultimately left feeling contradictory and concurrent emotions of sorrow and excitement.

“Keeping this in mind, don’t rush through the next four years of your life. Rather, take advantage of each day. Remember to occasionally slow down and reflect — like you did during quarantine.Victoria Wilenska, valedictorian

“We used the heat of our emotions to defend a cause close to home — the experience of our senior year. In the wake of heinous cases of prejudice and brutality, we began to use our emotions for a cause much greater than ourselves and our senior year. To peacefully protest racial injustice in this country, we’ve marched with our fellow citizens demanding equal treatment of the black community, promoted online petitions and donation links supporting justice and mourned with the rest of the nation over countless unneccessary deaths. We’ve refused to accept the status quo that treats people differently on the basis of skin color and used our passion to prove it.

“… I urge you all to allow these emotions to persist, even after the flame of the current events dies out. Use them as fuel for you to go out into the world and compensate for the experiences that you lost as a high school senior. Allow them to drive you towards becoming a doctor, a civil rights lawyer, a professional athlete, a musician, president of the United States, or any other profession in which you have your dreams set.

“With these emotions, build a foundation of a life full of memorable experiences in a world full of justice.

“Though it may not seem like it now, you will all come to find that the future memories that you make are far more desirable than any senior tradition that you might have missed this year.”  — Theodore Gross, 2020 Graduate Address

“Throughout these past four years, the Class of 2020 has continuously proven to me to be the most passionate, compassionate, virtuous and inspiring group of people I have ever met. There is truly no limit to what we can achieve.

“There has been some criticism about our generation being too idealistic. To that, I challenge: Why not? Why not fight for what we think is right? Why not be the progenitors of permanent, positive change? Why not us? Why not here and why not now?”Steven Lee, president of the Class of 2020

“Class of 2020, you love this school. I know from my many talks with you over the years that you bleed red and white.

“Masuk is not just your school, but as I told last year’s graduating class, it is your home, and in your home are your loved ones. And certainly the health and well-being of our loved ones has never seemed as important as it has in 2020.

“We also realized this year that it is not the brick and mortar of the building on Monroe Turnpike that makes a school, but it’s our love for one another that maintains our community.”Dr. Jacob Greenwood, Masuk principal

“I have heard that these graduates may be referred to as ‘the Covid Class.’ You may be fine with that monicker, but I’m not. there is no doubt that the global pandemic that engulfed the end of your time at Masuk will have an impact for years to come.

“However, you should not be defined by the last three months of your senior year. You had 12-and-three-quarter-years to establish yourself in the Monroe public schools — to carve out your own unique identity, and you did just that.” Joseph Kobza, acting superintendent of schools

“Let me make you one guarantee for this group of graduating seniors. Whatever life decides to throw at us won’t matter. This class is ready, willing and able to stand up to any challenge. We cannot and we will not be shaken. We cannot and we will not be broken and we cannot and we will not be deterred, for we have been battle tested and we won with class, with resolve and with a unity of purpose.

“My friends, let me assure you, the best is yet to come.”Ross Beck, graduate of the Class of 2020

“Together, through hard work and perseverance, we have done more than change just our own stories, we have changed the story of Masuk for the better. So Panthers, each and every one of us has changed the story at Masuk, now it’s time to focus on each of our own cameras to change the world, because we are Panther strong.” — Annirose Gaber, photographer for Red Army, the Masuk High School cheering section.

“We are the next generation that will leave an impact on the world, so let’s bring about a new goal to reach. Because when our kids or grandkids are taking that US history exam a few years down the line, I want them to know us as the generation who shined, even in darkest of times. Let’s make history.”Madison Kobza, graduate, Class of 2020

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