Calm amid chaos, 56 Gateway grads forge ahead

  • Seniors at Gateway Regional High School perform “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” at their graduation ceremony Friday. STAFF PHOTO/BERA DUNAU

  • The Gateway Regional High School class of 2021 listens to Principal Jason Finnie speak at their graduation ceremony on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/BERA DUNAU

Staff Writer
Published: 6/5/2021 11:16:42 AM

HUNTINGTON – For a year that featured so much change, the graduation ceremony at Gateway Regional High School was somewhat of a point of normalcy.

As is traditionally the case, the ceremony was held outside on school grounds. Speakers addressed the graduates and attempted to impart wisdom, there was a band and a choral performance and masks were not required for the sizable crowd, although pre-registration was required.

“This is truly time for our final party rock,” said Class Vice-President Daniel McKellick II.

Still, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that upended both the world and the lives of the 56-member class of 2021 was a constant thread throughout the Friday ceremony.

“You had to endure the exhaustion of online learning,” said staff speaker Alexis Batra. “Then you had to wear masks for seven hours a day.”

Batra is the Spanish teacher at Gateway Regional. She noted that the class of 2021 formed her first impression of Gateway in 2019, when she started teaching high school for the first time and the graduates were then sophomores.

“You made me laugh, sometimes you confused and overwhelmed me, and some of you masterfully avoided doing work, and then you made me fall in love with you when you would all get up and dance on Fridays,” Batra said.

Batra also praised the resilience of the class of 2021 in the face of the challenges of the pandemic, and she said that when she thinks about the class of 2021 she thinks of strength.

“This year was a forge,” Batra said. “And each of you, against your will, was inside that forge.”

The ceremony was the last for David Hopson, the longtime superintendent of schools for the Gateway Regional School District, in his current role. Hopson is in his 18th year in the job and has attended more than 20 Gateway Regional High School graduations. And while he said the most moving speeches come from the those in the graduating class, he still had some advice to share.

“Keep it short,” was one of the guidelines Hopson said he would follow in his speech. “The mind is only engaged when the butt is comfortable.”

Hopson also suggested that the class listen occasionally to the Tim McGraw song “Humble and Kind.”

“Always stay humble and kind,” he said, quoting the song.

In her speech, class valedictorian Victoria Kot shared a few lessons she’d picked up along the way, including don’t change yourself for anyone, failure is not the enemy and let go of your grudges.

“Please let go of any grudges that are stopping you from having a better life,” Kot said.

Kot also shared her belief that everyone in the graduating class was “destined for greatness.”

“That may possibly be the most cliche statement I’ve ever given but it is also the full truth,” she said.

Salutatorian Rebecca Hyjek said that the class has benefited from this “unconventional year.”

“We have gained a bit of independence that normally would take another year after high school to develop,” she said.

She noted that having scheduled breaks in the school day has allowed for students to get to know each other and teachers on a new level, and she shared that she never expected to see her teacher Daniel Shea make his lunch during AP physics.

“These moments have been the calm amongst the chaos, and moments to laugh about,” she said.

And Hyjek went on to say that the chaos the students dealt with will be hard to forget.

“So in the next four years when we all become different people, remember what we had these last twelve years,” she said. “We have had some of the best chaos of our lives and made friendships that can last a lifetime.”

In his closing remarks, principal Jason Finnie also spoke about the pandemic’s impact.

“These past 15 months were not lost time. They taught you patience, endurance, and perseverance,” Finnie said. “To ignore the training ground of the last year would be to enter the contest of what’s to come unprepared and empty handed.”

After the ceremony, Ashley Neveu expressed happiness at having graduated. “I’m finally done,” she said.

Neveu said that the year was stressful, going from hybrid learning to in-person learning, to hybrid learning again. She said that she thought the graduation ceremony was “awesome” and Neveu got to play flute alongside other senior musicians in a performance of “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”

Bera Dunau can be reached at

A special section with more graduation news about the Gateway Regional High School class of 2021 will be published in the Gazette July 2.


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