Tomahawk High School Class of 2020 graduates virtually
Speeches from co-valedictorians, messages from district staff featured in unique ceremony
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – The Tomahawk High School Class of 2020’s senior year was unlike any that had come before it.
The COVID-19 pandemic lead to the statewide shutdown of K-12 schools in March. Schools didn’t reopen before the end of the school year, meaning seniors weren’t able to experience those unique final few months of high school the same way that countless others did.
However, 2020 graduates will be able to look back at their unprecedented senior year and remember the experiences no preceding class can relate to. Among them: a virtual graduation ceremony.
Seniors and Tomahawk School District staff worked with a media company to create a 37-minute long video, posted on the district’s website and YouTube on Friday, June 5, that celebrates the Class of 2020’s accomplishments and looks ahead to graduates’ futures.
The ceremony began with a montage of photos of this year’s graduates, followed by the National Anthem, sung by the Tomahawk High School Chamber Choir.
Following the National Anthem, Class Treasurer Richelle Swan welcomed parents, friends and loved ones to the commencement on behalf of the district, staff and the Class of 2020.
“We greatly appreciate each of you and the role you that played in our success,” Swan said.
Principal Ryan Huseby addressed the Class of 2020, saying he, like the graduates, found himself thinking about graduation on May 22, the date the ceremony was originally scheduled.
“I was struggling with what to say to a class who has ended high school under the conditions you have, so I decided to take a bike ride, and crossed paths with several of you along the way,” Huseby stated. “We’d exchange a smile and a wave as you drove by, or words of encouragement from across the street to one another. It was those interactions that reminded me what I believe graduation represents: the discoveries together during a science lab; the opportunity to take a vision and bring it to reality by constructing it with your hands; the feeling of rehearsing a musical piece to the point where you finally hear it performed, and it sounds just right; the lunchroom conversations about who knows what; the early morning workouts in the fitness center with teammates; the feeling of accomplishment when you have put in all the time and energy to learn a concept and see the resulting test score; the long hours and many laughs during drama practice, and the fulfillment of hearing the applause as the curtain closes on opening night; the locker room talks at halftime, and the late bus rides home; and for this class, overcoming the uncertainty and challenges that accompany completing high school during a health pandemic.”
Huseby noted he felt graduation is special because it’s “a celebration of these things, and so much more.”
“The experiences are what provide value to the milestone of graduation,” he said.
After Huseby took time to recognize graduates entering the military, he said he wishes those in the Class of 2020 “move forward with a strong foundation of hope, understanding, resiliency, and optimism, and do so with the excitement that has lead you to this point of high school graduation.”
Co-valedictorian Brynn Beaumier noted her class’s resiliency and strength, and thanked her family, friends and THS staff.
“We are so lucky to have you, especially during these strange times,” she said. “It’s sad to be leaving all of this behind, but we’re on to bigger and better things. Every one of us has the potential to be great, so let’s go out and be great in the world, Class of 2020.”
James Lee, also co-valedictorian, said that if he could give advice to himself as a freshman entering high school, he’d say, “Enjoy the process.”
“We spend far too much time in our high school careers looking ahead to graduation and beyond, or stressing and worrying about what later seem like trivial details,” he said. “Whatever the cause, we often forget to stop and enjoy what we have while we have it.”
Lee thanked the Tomahawk community for supporting the Class of 2020.
“As I sit here, looking at my phone, recording this graduation speech, I reminisce about the last four years, and I’m sure many of you are as well,” said co-valedictorian Travis Phillips.
Phillips recalled memories from “the good old days,” including hearing the school song played by the school band on homecoming, stressing over presenting a written paper, and “the simple days flying by without much deviation from each other.”
“But most of all, I remember longing for this moment: the time for us to graduate,” he continued, noting that although the class missed out on key moments in their lives, they fought the uphill battle and came out on the other side stronger.
Co-valedictorian Haley Voermans-Dean said she had reflected on her and the class’s journeys through high school.
“Although each of us has chosen our own path on which to travel, each with its fair share of ups and downs, we are all here together in this moment,” she said. “Together, we share the fact that, collectively, we’ve had a unique adventure. It may not have always seemed ideal, organized, or to be heading in the right direction, but we’ve all made it here today, and that’s certainly something to be proud of.”
Voermans-Dean concluded her speech by urging her fellow graduates to “share lessons and truths that we have learned up to this point in our lives with the new people we meet. Let’s continue to be eager and willing to improve our character, discipline, and love for one another each and every day, and let’s enjoy the beautiful life we have to explore before us.”
“Our journey has been composed of much more than how it ended, and although our circumstances are far from ideal, I encourage each of you to celebrate your accomplishments throughout the entirety of your time as a student in the Tomahawk School District,” said co-valedictorian Natalie Zastrow.
In concluding her speech, Zastrow noted how fun the Class of 2020 was to be around.
“I may be biased, but I don’t know that a class with a better sense of humor has ever passed through,” she said. “So, as I leave you today, please make sure to remember your roots, and never stop laughing.”
Following the speeches from the co-valedictorians, District Administrator Terry Reynolds introduced a photo montage featuring each graduate. Class Vice-President Madilyn Hanse, Class President Brynn Beaumier, Class Treasurer Richelle Swan, and Class Secretary Connor Dichsen presented their fellow graduates.
The graduates virtually turned their tassels after the montage, and School Board President Kay Kissinger Wolf asked them to “always see the future with 2020 vision.”
The ceremony concluded with each graduate virtually passing a diploma to each other and teachers and staff congratulating the class.