By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
In the age of COVID-19, Hoke County Class of 2020 still got to walk the stage – though the usual cheering crowds were missing.
In a time of social distancing and amid an historic pandemic, Hoke County Schools worked to find ways to make the Class of 2020 graduation special and to highlight students’ accomplishments.
Saturday, graduates and their families lined up in a long row of cars slowly passing through the Hoke High campus. One by one, students and one family member were allowed to get out to take the walk across the stage to pick up their diploma, and to capture a photo of the special moment. While the crowds were missing, many people decorated their vehicles with special graduation messages to celebrate the day. School officials wearing masks greeted students as they took their walk across the stage.
The school system posted online photos and biographies of the seniors, including some of their achievements, a favorite memory from high school and a senior quote. A drive-through field of lights at Hoke High featured poster-sized senior photos of more than 400 graduating seniors, and shout-outs on Facebook Live and a local radio station.
The school hosted an online graduation ceremony that featured messages from school and student leaders. Mikayla Mathilyn Marquart, a section leader of the Mighty Marching Bucks, dressed in white and red cap and gown to perform the Star-Spangled Banner on flute. Hoke County High School Principal Dr. Adell Baldwin offered remarks in the online ceremony.
“If you look at your 2020 school year, you’re going to remember coronavirus, you’re going to remember the social distance, you’re going to remember I missed my baseball games, I missed my season, I missed my prom, a traditional graduation, all of which are really painful experiences. I feel your pain,” Baldwin said. “Tonight we’re not going to give the coronavirus any more power. It came, we had to face it, we have to deal with it, and we have to abide by the law of the land and do what’s necessary…Class of 2020, you’re going to be the first class to embrace this challenge.”
These students will be the ones to get to decide what the “new normal” looks like in our community, the principal said.
Baldwin thanked students of the Class of 2020 for helping him be a better administrator.
“The conversations that we’ve had through the hallways, the conversations that we’ve had in the gym, the process that we’ve had to go through this, you guys have helped make me a better leader. Thank you. I pray that the last two years that we’ve been together that I helped implement something in your life that made a difference,” he said.
The principal also extended thanks to the teachers and staff, and to parents.
“You guys are the best. No one can do it the way you do it. To love our kids, to love this class and to help them go through this process was a tremendous effort and it could not have been done without you,” he said.
Valedictorian Yazmine Elyse Myers offered remarks in the online graduation.
“When I imagined this moment I saw myself speaking in a crowded football stadium with thousands in attendance. Never would I have imagined myself alone in the media center with no one but my family to share this special moment with me,” Myers said. “While I’m sure none of us envisioned our graduation would be this way, I do not want these undesirable circumstances to take away from our big day.”
Myers encouraged the Class of 2020 to embrace their years of hard work to make it to graduation, and reflected on lessons learned during the last years.
“Overall it won’t matter how popular you were in high school or how many likes you had on your Instagram post. What will matter is what you have to offer the world,” she said.
Salutatorian Janaia Jackson offered supportive remarks to her classmates.
“Guys, we finally made it. The moment we have been waiting for since we were children has finally arrived,” she said.
“At a time like this it is easy to become discouraged or unmotivated, but we prevailed, because we are the class of resilience, creativity and pure excellence. 2020 hasn’t been easy for any of us, but as the saying goes, life is 10 percent what happens to us, and 90 percent how we react. Despite our circumstances, we continue to push forward and look to our futures.”
Class President Jada Adams said she’d learned the “phenomenal” Class of 2020 includes some of the strongest people she had ever met.
“I am very proud of everyone for staying strong and staying motivated,” she said in remarks.
To view a video of the online graduation ceremony, visit the school system’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HokeCountySchools.