WAVERLY – Led by class President Morgan Adams, the Waverly High School Class of 2020 tossed their hats high into the air to celebrate the end of their high school careers Friday evening.

“And I present to you the Waverly High School Class of 2020. Congratulations everyone!” high school Principal Ashlee Hunt announced from the field.

Although New York state’s COVID-19 guidance provided some uncertainty leading up to Friday’s commencement, Waverly’s newest round of graduates were able to mark this milestone together in Memorial Stadium, although the ceremony had to be carried out a little differently with video recorded speeches played from the scoreboard, the graduates’ guests rotating in and out of the stands as students received their diplomas in groups, and socially distanced seating.

According to Salutatorian Sheridan Talada, this moment came after what seemed to be the longest three months of these students’ lives following the March school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While we were waiting, we watched our own teachers and administrators embrace this unprecedented situation,” Talada said. “Our teachers ran around for weeks after the shutdown to ensure we had everything we needed – both academically and emotionally. They learned how to communicate everything to us through a computer screen, and we all know how much Mrs. (Mary) Ryan loves technology, which makes this especially impressive. Mr. Knolles (Superintendent Eric Knolles) potentially began a very successful music career. Who knew our superintendent had such as knack for song parodies?”

Although he didn’t parody any songs Friday as he did through the district’s Wolverine News Network over the past few months, Knolles quoted the lyrics to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” as he reflected on how the class has overcome many challenges over the years and inspired them for the future.

“You’re my no-quit class,” he said. “You are resilient. You refuse to back down. Your mental and physical toughness has been on display at Waverly for years. Now you will take that toughness to the workforce, to the military, and to college.”

Through these challenges, including COVID-19, Hunt said the class of 2020 has come away even stronger.

“What a ride it’s been – one of ups, one of downs, one of successes, one of failures, one of happiness, one of sadness, one of joys and griefs,” she said. “But above all, it’s been one of greatness. You’ve persevered through one of the toughest school years in the history of schooling.”

For Adams, this strength and perseverance is what she mostly thinks of when she reflects on her classmates. This is in addition to their high academic performance – even while balancing jobs, athletics, and service in the surrounding community – and common sense that extends outside of the classroom.

“The class of 2020 will continue to inspire others and make footprints for others to follow,” she said.

“People say we will go on to achieve great things and become successful, but it doesn’t always mean having a lot of money and owning a new beach house in Malibu,” Adams continued. “ … Our greatness and our legacy comes from our humanity. Don’t let the word ‘success’ psych you into thinking materialistically. Instead, think about what makes you happy and think and feel like you’ve succeeded.”

With how the end of their senior year was upended, Valedictorian Brandon Clark inspired his fellow graduates to not only be independent thinkers and to always strive to improve themselves, but also to not take anything in life for granted.

“We got gypped on the last third of our senior year, which is arguably the most fun and important,” he said. “But you know what? The world keeps turning and we just have to make the best of every situation. We might have to work harder to keep in touch with one another since we didn’t have senior prom or the senior trip to establish the usual class bond. This time hasn’t been all bad though. we got a chance to spend some quality time with our families. Some of us chose to work, others got out in nature or exercised more. Sometimes the world seems to be going so fast. We all could use a little slow down, and now we have been given a chance at that.”

As they prepared to move forward in life, Talada encouraged her classmates to do good for others, whether it’s cooking a meal for family members or paying for the next person in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru.

“As we leave the halls of Waverly High School, I and my fellow classmates have learned that one good thing to come out of this pandemic is the appreciation of everyday heroes and everyday actions, from helping a neighbor to washing your hands, nothing is stopping us from becoming a true hero,” she said.

In addition, Hunt told graduates to represent Waverly well and to be proud Wolverines as they embark on their new journeys.

“Wolverines, have courage,” said Knolles. “The wolverine doesn’t know how to quit. The courage of the wolverine is unquestioned in the wild. Set a mark on the world where people will know you are a Wolverine.”

Connect with Matt: (570) 265-2151 ext. 1628; mhicks@thedailyreview.com; Facebook @Matt Hicks Daily Review.