The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on graduation ceremonies last year, forcing many to be done virtually, if at all, so the Nease Class of 2021 wasn’t going to let a little thing like a virtual monsoon of a rainstorm stop it from celebrating its accomplishments.
The largest graduating class at Nease High School braved the torrential downpour on Thursday, June 3, at TIAA Bank Field, to listen to speeches from school leaders, collect their diplomas and close out their high school careers after more than a year of facing the unknown of what their future would hold.
St. Johns County School District superintendent Tim Forson reminded students of the unique trials they faced, but also noted how it brought the students closer together, despite having to be further apart physically.
“… Hopefully you don't have to hear these words again for a long time — quarantine, social distancing, temperature checks, classroom dividers and, also, in some cases, illness,” Forson told the 642 graduates in attendance. “And I know that's been a part of this year and this experience. And I hope that we don't ever have to go through that again. But what really happened is that you, as a class, the largest graduating class of Nease High School, have grown closer together. You can see it in your faces, you can see in the conversations that were taking place before the ceremony, and it's just a wonderful, wonderful sight to see this graduating class move forward together.”
Salutatorian Shivam Shaw, who will be attending the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, shared his thoughts on his high school experience, provided philosophical advice from rapper Wiz Khalifa and offered encouragement about the future.
“Standing here today, so many emotions in my head — joy, frustration, excitement, sadness — thinking about the four years that we will never forget. Through our entire lives, our parents have told us snippets about the mystery that we call the future. And here we are, we made it. Your future begins today.”
Nease valedictorian Lark Harrington applauded her classmates for their strength and perseverance in getting through these difficult times.
“Through this year years unique challenges, it was difficult for us to keep sight of what we were working towards,” said Harrington, who will attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “And I know that there have been times where many of us have struggled to keep going. Somehow though, we have all made it through the worst of this to be here today.
“Despite living through unprecedented loss and change, it is difficult as we reached the finish line, not to look back and feel some disappointment at what the pandemic has taken from us or wonder where we might be today if our lives had not been touched by the virus. For many of us, the success we have enjoyed just not yet feel enough to make up for the trials we've experienced.”
Harrington also expressed positivity and confidence for the future.
“I have confidence that the best of our lives, and of ourselves is yet to come,” she said. “Each of you receiving your diploma today has weathered this storm and this literal storm. And though you may not see it yet, you will be stronger for it. You may already feel like your life has gone back to normal or likely you may just now be finding the light at the end of the tunnel. Regardless of how you feel in this moment, the simple fact that you are here today is a monumental accomplishment.
“That means even more than it has been years prior. Each one of us has so much to be proud of. Thanks to the struggles we have faced this past year, we can enter the rest of our lives confident in the knowledge that we are ready for anything.”