“Take it all in. When you get a chance to walk across the stage, enjoy every step, look to Mom and Dad, look to your family, and just enjoy the moment.”
That’s the advice St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson gave to the graduating class of Ponte Vedra High School. After more than a year of COVID-19 concerns, school closings, virtual learning, athletic competition cancellations and uncertainty about the future, 464 graduates from Ponte Vedra High School took the field at TIAA Bank Field on Saturday, June 5, to enjoy the moment of being together, celebrate their accomplishments and shift their focus to what’s ahead.
SJC School Board District 4 member Kelly Barrera lauded the students on their resiliency and perseverance.
“… This is a milestone that is so worthy of being celebrated,” she said. “And it is such a joy to be with you tonight to celebrate your accomplishments, even more than I think in years past, because it's taken more for you guys to get here.”
PVHS principal Dr. Fred Oberkehr applauded the students’ perseverance in the face of adversity, and expressed gratitude for the graduates’ supports system, which helped make their success possible.
“So many influence our lives, some in small ways as others are more impactful,” he said. I am grateful for the support that we had this year from our board of education, Superintendent Forson and all the district’s administration. The support from our parents and families and volunteers our PTO, athletic, drama and band boosters, has been like no other year and we thank you all.”
Last year, PVHS seniors picked up diplomas in a drive-through ceremony, celebrating their graduation from vehicles, apart from their classmates. As the year began, this year’s group of seniors didn’t know what awaited them as their final year of high school came to an end, but the Class of 2021 was able to celebrate together in front of friends and family.
It’s what Forson focused on in his speech to the graduates, reminding them of all they’d overcome and the strength they’ve bult dealing with adversity.
“… COVID really overwhelmed us. It's overwhelmed our community, it overwhelmed our country, and overwhelmed the world,” Forson said. “And the fact that you took it on as seniors, you overcame the challenges in front of you. And, as Dr. Oberkehr shares when he talks about perseverance, is what this is brought to you now, in your pocket, in your toolkit, you have a level of resilience you never had before.”
“You know, I don't really have any advice for you,” Forson told the Class of 2021. “I have learned from you during the course of this year, but I do have gratitude.”
Salutatorian Carolina Mechetti discussed how different her high school experience was from what she expected, and how she and her classmates learned to adapt.
“During my early teenage years, I frequently imagine high school through the lens of ‘High School Musical,’ fun and light-hearted place with people singing and dancing and every corner we're studying with secondary. As a freshman, I soon realized that the mix of excitement and trepidation that my initial view of high school would be wildly different from the movie.”
But what she couldn’t have predicted was the obstacles presented by COVID-19 during her high school years.
“Since March of last year, our school life has been determined by uncertainty,” Mechetti said. “But throughout all of these distractions, one thing has remained; our commitment to persevere and succeed.”
Valedictorian Matthew Shen thanked the teachers and administrators for their strength and commitment despite the obstacles of the last year.
“Thank you to our devoted teachers and coaches for going the extra mile in preparing us for life, for our future academics and beyond,” Shen said. “Thank you to the custodial and maintenance [staff] who are keeping our campus clean, and for making sure the AC unit in the gym is always running at peak condition.”
Shen also lightened things up amid a year of trepidation, drawing laughs from fellow classmates, faculty and guests with his witty insight on dealing with life’s uncertainties and the potential importance of TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities) when it comes to dealing with uncertainty.
“As you all embark on your individual journeys and embrace whatever level of optimism you're most comfortable with, I urge you to find constancy when you can, to find adventure in the uncertain and to ask your financial advisor if TIPS is right for you,” Shen quipped.