The Class Of 2020: Reminiscing The Past, Ready For The Future

Valedictorian Youssef Gendy

While large crowds, hand-shakes, and prom were on hold this year, the 2020 Graduates were celebrated on Tuesday Night, when STA’s Virtual Graduation ceremony premiered on YouTube. Valedictorian, Youssef Gendy said it best: “Many of us didn’t expect to be graduating through a computer screen, but here we are.” The ceremony was uplifting, and in these trying times it did an exceptional job of honouring our invaluable graduates. 

By the beginning of May, the administration, and graduation committee were already hard at work deliberating ways to honour the graduates. In early June they announced that graduates could pick up their caps and gowns, certificates, and diplomas at the school and, that they would celebrate them in an online ceremony. 

The video, put together by Mr. Mackenzie, Mr. Manzin, and Jack Kukolic, began with a Graduation Mass at St. Andrew’s Church. Father Con, who presided over the mass, urged the graduates to “give thanks for the experiences you have had.” A small group of graduates, staff, and administrators, who maintained social distancing, participated in the mass. 

Once the service ended, Salutatorian Shima Clarke opened the event. Rather than standing on a podium, Shima stood on her front lawn, delivering a reflective and timely speech that matched the gravity of the current moment. “This year has not been easy, however, the monumental effects these times will have had on the STA community and the greater world itself deserve to be recognized,” she remarked. “The board-wide strikes, the global pandemic, and a civil rights revolution ongoing today have forced us to reevaluate our lives and realize the individual obligations we have as Catholics, or simply as people, to better the society and communities of which we are part of,” she continued.

“This pandemic and revelation of underlying societal injustices have truly served to show me, and I hope all of you, the integrity, kindness, perseverance, and intelligence our generation has to offer this world.”

Salutatorian Shima Clarke

After thanking administrators, staff, and parents, Shima turned to the importance of her class’s achievements in today’s world. “While it’s unfortunate we can’t be physically together to celebrate, the arrival of this pandemic and revelation of underlying societal injustices have truly served to show me, and I hope all of you, the integrity, kindness, perseverance, and intelligence our generation has to offer this world.” 

Next, Mr. Perusin, Board Director Pat Daly, Oakville Trustee Nancy Guzzo, and the Parent Council delivered congratulatory messages to the Class of 2020. They all underscored the value of the graduate’s achievements, their hard work, and their future, despite being unable to celebrate together. “Making a difference in the world can take on many forms, so do not underestimate all the good, the compassion, and empathy you can spread upon the world,” remarked Mr. Perusin. 

“You don’t always get to choose what role you play, but you get to choose how you play it.”

Guest Speaker, Sami Jo Small

Then came the event’s guest speaker, three-time Olympic gold medalist, and world-class hockey player, Sami Jo Small. Small told the story of her experience at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, where her coaches informed her she would not be the starting goal-keeper in the final match against the U.S. Despite her disappointment, Small accepted the decision and cheered as loud as she could from the bench. Ultimately, she and her team took home the gold medal. Her message: “You don’t always get to choose what role you play, but you get to choose how you play it.” Even though the graduates may not have wanted their time in high school to end like this, she urged them to push forward, and think of all they have done for each other, not only themselves. 

“Regardless of all the pain and hurt from the past, we still are just as, and if not more, valuable than ever.”

Valedictorian Youssef Gendy

Finally, it was time for the most-anticipated speech of the night: the valedictorian speech. Youssef Gendy, who received the honour, delivered an upbeat and energetic speech, exploring the universal concept of time within the context of his class’s abnormal senior year. He crumpled up a 100 dollar bill to show the value of their senior year, even if it wasn’t at all what they imagined. “Regardless of all the pain and hurt from the past, we still are just as, and if not more, valuable than ever,” he said. To illustrate the value for time, and the importance of living life in the moment, Youssef lit a match. “Time is the only thing that is indispensable in our lives. Like a match, our time can’t come back once it’s been used,” he said. He explained how time can’t be wasted when doing what we love. This is what he says his class spent all of high school doing: experiencing the football team’s unexpected success, screaming at pep rallies, showing off at talent shows, or attending basketball games in morph suits. 

Looking towards the future, Youssef told the graduates to make use of their twenty-four hours everyday doing what they love, “Every minute we dedicate, wherever we are, to making our environment more like home, every second we push ourselves, and those around us to upholding the same values of love and selflessness that we learn from the people in this building, we are taking advantage of our twenty-four hours.” 

In the end, Youseff’s speech proved that even if the Class of 2020 did not receive their storybook ending, the memories they created, their achievements, and their bright future, are what defines them. 

The graduates’ photos flashed across the screen, as teachers and staff offered their sincere goodbyes and best wishes to the students whom they’ve taught over the last four years.

The video ended with a touch of humour by Mr Mackenzie who shared a photo of him in high-school and described how this would be a Graduation for the “history books.” 

STA’s first Virtual Graduation, and hopefully its last, proved to be a success, having amassed over 1000 views before midnight on Tuesday.

The ceremony was a reflection if its class. A class who may have felt uncertain and disappointed when their final year was unexpectedly cut short, but a class who focused on their memories and were optimistic towards the future. 

The same night the Virtual Graduation premiered, Student Council released a heartfelt message from our Grade Twelves titled “Sincerely, The Class Of 2020.” They shared their experiences as seniors during the pandemic and offered advice for current and future students: to get involved, make memories, and cherish every moment. 

Congratulations to all the graduates! We will truly miss them all and wish them the best of luck as they embark on a new chapter in their lives. As echoed by the entire school community, once a Raider, always a Raider.

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