‘Rising above everything and beyond thrown at us’: Holyoke High School honors graduates

  • Students process onto the Roberts’ Field Sports Complex for the Holyoke High School class of 2020 graduation ceremony, held outdoors on Sunday.  STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

  • Students celebrate after the Holyoke High School graduation ceremony held outdoors at Roberts’ Field Sports Complex on Sunday.  STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

  • Students walk off the Roberts’ Field Sports Complex after a rainy conclusion to the Holyoke High School outdoor graduation ceremony on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

  • Students meet with family and friends before leaving the outdoor Holyoke High School graduation ceremony on Sunday.  STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2020 5:38:53 PM

HOLYOKE — A common theme for the Holyoke High School class of 2020 was change, according to North Campus class president Melina Garcia.

“It’s all been a bit unorthodox,” Garcia said, referring not just to the COVID-19 pandemic, but to adjustments such as the class going through three principal changes in one year, “but despite it all, here we are. We did it.”

Garcia spoke at the high school’s class of 2020 graduation ceremony, held outdoors Sunday at the Roberts’ Field Sports Complex with students seated 6 feet apart and masked.

As she addressed her graduating class of about 320 students; HHS staff; officials; and family members, Garcia thanked her fellow students for “rising above everything and beyond thrown us at.”

John Shea, North Campus valedictorian, also spoke to this sentiment, stating that the class of 2020 can best be defined as “superlative” due its resilience in the face of great challenges.

The class of 2020 “is superlative because of its perseverance and ability to adapt to anything the world has thrown its way,” Shea said.

He added, “Through a pandemic and time of social upheaval, the class of 2020 has remained headstrong and hopeful.”

Garcia also called for her peers to continue to take a stand and advocate for justice, telling her class that, beyond their potential careers, “best of all, I believe we can be the catalyst of true change in our world.”

For Dean Campus valedictorian Jorge Gonzalez, the day can be defined by one word: Success. Gonzales urged his peers to continue to follow their passion.

“As long as you like doing what you do, you will make  it,” he said.

The graduates not only made it through a time of great turbulence, said Superintendent Stephen Zrike, but excelled throughout their four years in high school: Zrike highlighted accomplishments such as over 60% of students participating in dual enrollment and early college experience programming; a higher passing rate in 10th grade English on the MCAS than any other class in HHS history; the best attendance rate of any class in recent memory; and numerous athletic, scholarly and artistic achievements.

The class of 2020 also had to weather several changes all the way through the end of Sunday’s graduation ceremony: As a drizzle began to fall and a downpour loomed within the next half hour, school officials made the call to cut the speaking program short so that all students could receive their diplomas before the weather could potentially force the graduation to a halt.

Graduation plans themselves were for a time uncertain. School officials initially promised an in-person ceremony, but months later in July, they announced that the ceremony would be held drive-thru style at Holyoke Community College, which angered many students and families.

Later that week, officials announced that the ceremony would take place in-person at the Roberts’ Field Sports Complex.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse urged graduates to “never forget where you come from,” stating that he was drawn back to Holyoke, his hometown, because of a sense of community and “the fact that we’re not a finished product.”

The city continues to face challenges, Morse said, and the day’s graduates will play an essential role in shaping Holyoke’s future.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.
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