The Class of 2020 became the first Sun Prairie High School class to graduate virtually on Friday, June 12 with an online video tribute that included music from the Sun Prairie High School band, orchestra and choir, as well as four speeches from class seniors.
The video also included remarks from Sun Prairie School Board Vice President Tom Weber, Sun Prairie School Board President Steve Schroeder, Superintendent Brad Saron and SPHS Principal Keith Nerby.
“I’m still happy I get to speak for you guys because I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t,” remarked Collin Stewart in his speech.
Stewart, one of two Homecoming kings in 2019, said he misses everyone.
“It really makes it seem like the whole world is on pause, but it isn’t really,” Stewart said.
Right now is a time when students have the ability to do whatever they want, Stewart said, “except go to favorite places.”
Like other Class of 202 speakers, Stewart reflected on the enormity of the events surrounding COVID-19, but also appreciated his classmates.
“We’re the Class of 2020,” Stewart said, “and we’re some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”
Each graduate had the podium from the Performing Arts Center inside of Sun Prairie High School moved remotely to allow them to use it. Stewart spoke from in front of his home, as did Paige Barber, who presented the class gift.
“Back in April, I, and I’m sure many of us here, would’ve been wondering if we’d even be sitting here today,” Barber said in her video speech.
“The fear, the tears, the Zoom classes attended from the comfort of our own beds, and the countless face masks and hand sanitizer we’ve gone through — we have been through it all — and on this day we have successfully survived what might be the most invigorating emotional rollercoaster of our lives,” Barber said. “For that fact, let’s breathe a sigh of relief and give ourselves a pat on the back.”
The Class of 2020 will give the Performing Arts Center a large curved sign facing the Schey Commons to showcase the space, along with a concession cart used for the various shows and concerts. The remainder of Class of 2020 funds will be donated to the Sunshine Place, “a local organization doing so much for our community, especially during this crisis,” Barber said.
Speaker Emily Flood, a student member of the Sun Prairie School Board, didn’t have to grasp the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had to deal with it — literally.
“Imagine how hard it is to finish designing a high school yearbook when the last quarter of the school year just disappears,” Flood said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have to imagine, because I, along with my fellow yearbook editors, found myself in that situation just a few weeks ago.
“It was strange, looking at all those blank pages, and not knowing what to fill them with, and I think a lot of you can probably relate,” Flood said. “The spring sports, the prom, the final days of high school, a normal graduation, the layout that we had planned for this year, so entirely wrong.”
Like others stuck at home, Flood opened up Tik Tok — and was surprised by what she saw.
“And boy was I excited to be bombarded with a slew of people ranking everything from childhood TV shows to One Direction songs, teens coercing their parents to participate in trends made all the funnier by their lack of knowledge of said trend . . . but beyond that, I saw high schoolers from across the country joining together in the awesomeness of this sudden surplus of family time, recounting the perils of adapting to online school, rejoicing over our sudden enrollment at ‘Zoom University.’ And all of a sudden, it just clicked,” Flood said.
“Like it or not, we are graduating in a year that will likely be remembered for centuries. COVID-19, and its economic, social, and political ramifications have made our future, and for that matter the world’s future, more unclear than ever,” Flood said. “But it's at times like these when our 2020 vision, our hopes for the future and our dreams of a better tomorrow become incredibly important.”
Flood also said the pandemic didn’t silence the Class of 2020, and it was valuable.
“The closure to our 12.75 years of in-person education may have been unconventional,” Flood said, “but it was certainly by no means less valuable than what we were expecting. We’ve had opportunities to learn new skills, to get innovative with the ways we interact with the world around us, to mayyyybe binge watch that TV show that we’ve always intended on watching,” Flood added.
“And when we come out of isolation, the dedication, the creative-thinking, and the resilience that each of us has gained during this time will be more apparent than ever as we march into the rest of our lives, armed with our memories of a vibrant, albeit rather unique school year,” Flood said.
And yes, Flood admitted she had to do a lot of yearbook reformatting “to encapsulate all the unexpectedness” of the last quarter of the senior year.
“But I know that our time in isolation has made us all the more equipped to envision a brighter future,” Flood added, “a future with blank pages just waiting to be filled.”
Nerby asked the Class of 2020 to remember not the last quarter of their senior academic careers, but instead, reflect on the entirety of their school careers in Sun Prairie. Nerby also thanked all the staff for their efforts to keep students engaged through the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the Class of 2020 finishing their careers online.
The historic nature of the Class of 2020 was also embraced by senior speaker Jamal Stone, who also said he wasn’t thrilled with having to speak in a recording.
“We’ve worked so hard, we should be gathered in person to celebrate each other, together,” Stone said in his video speech. “I can’t pretend to be happy about a virtual graduation. That being said, I can’t and won’t sit here and act like what has happened is a good thing, but I want to recognize the challenges that Sun Prairie High School’s Class of 2020 has faced and the opportunities we have to be something more.”
Stone also asked his classmates to see the larger message than just connecting with classmates virtually, or even trying to keep up their grade point average.
“Most importantly though, I think we can all say that we’ve learned one thing during all of this: to not take life for granted. In a way, we’ve started appreciating our world for what it is, appreciating nature, appreciating our time together.
“Today I visualize you all and I see my classmates, my castmates, my teammates, my artists, my activists, my class clowns, my athletes, my musicians, my friends, my heroes. Every day I am inspired by each and every one of you to be a better classmate, a better son, a better brother, and a better friend. Something more.
“We are something more. We are a unit. We are a family,” Stone said. “We are the Sun Prairie graduating class of 2020 and it has been an honor to be on this bumpy journey with all of you. Thank you.”
Speaking from the under-construction Ashley Field, Weber said the Class of 2020 will be honored during the dedication for the new Bank of Sun Prairie Stadium at Ashley Field in August. He also said the Sun Prairie Area School District is working on other ways for the Class of 2020 to be recognized to make up for some of the opportunities missed.
Senior Yasin Bah drew the senior speakers to a close by expressing overall appreciation for the triumph the Class of 2020 has experienced by reaching graduation.
“To my fellow graduates, I would like to congratulate you on both your graduation and making it through a period of time our children will read about in the history books,” Bah said. “Continue to be kind and I can’t wait to see the groundbreaking change you all will bring to this world.”