‘The class of 2020 will serve as an example of resilience to all’
Albion grads accept diplomas in virtual ceremony and then celebrate with parade
ALBION – The Class of 2020 held a virtual graduation ceremony with seniors receiving their diplomas in prerecorded personal ceremonies spread over 10 days. A compilation of those ceremonies was presented Friday evening at 20:20 (8:20 p.m.)
Click here to see the 1 hour, 47-minute video on the school district’s YouTube page.
The video includes student speeches by Valedictorian Ashlyn LeBaron, Salutatorian Katelyn Spierdowis and Class President Angel Rosario Soto. High School Principal Jennifer Ashbery, Board of Education President Kathy Harling and Superintendent Michael Bonnewell also addressed the graduates.
Students were also able to celebrate on Friday evening with a parade in vehicles around the campus and community.
Screenshot from YouTube video: Angel Rosario Soto, the class president, will be majoring in nursing at Brockport State College. He plans to finish his studies at the University of Buffalo and become a registered nurse anesthetist.
He played on Albion’s soccer, wrestling, tennis and track teams and was involved in the National Honor Society, Masterminds and other clubs.
Rosario Soto thanked his parents for their sacrifice and hard work. He said teachers really stepped up during the pandemic and “didn’t let us give up.”
He regretted the class hasn’t been together since March 13, the last day of in-school learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rosario Soto said the class has faced other challenges, besides the pandemic. The class members were born right after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. They grew up in era of the War of Terror.
The era included frequent school shootings across the country. The Albion students had drill to respond to an active shooter.
Rosario Soto said the class experienced other history, including the election of the first black president – Barack Obama.
The class president also praised the varsity football team for making it to a Sectional game at New Era Field, the home of the Buffalo Bills.
The class is ready for a new chapter.
“If you start to strive for something, don’t give up,” Rosario Soto said. “You pick yourself up and bust your butt off until you get there. Don’t let the negativity override the positivity.”
He urged the class to live their lives with purpose.
“Starting today our job is to show up wide-eyed, willing and ready for what, I don’t know, for anything, for everything,” he said. “To take on life, to take on love, and to take on the responsibility and the possibility. Today my friends our lives begin and I for one can not wait.”
Salutatorian Katelynn Spierdowis is headed to Clarkson University to major in civil engineering. At Albion, she was involved in the drama program, the orchestra and chorus. She played on the volleyball and tennis teams.
Spierdowis thanked the community for supporting the class, especially during the pandemic, when students were adopted by community members and showered with gifts.
“Your love and compassion has made us all feel truly special,” she said.
The graduating during the Black Lives Matter movement, a national push to fight systemic racism. Spierdowis said she is biracial and she shared about the challenges of acceptance.
“My friendships have been diverse,” she said. “I won’t label them as black or white. They were just my friends.”
She urged her classmates to “pursue a cause that is important to you.”
She concluded with a message of gratitude for the school district and community.
“Thank you Albion for giving me such a great start,” Spierdowis said.
Photo courtesy of Randy LeBaron: Ashlyn LeBaron gives the valedictory address. She will be majoring in nursing at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester. She was active on volleyball and track teams, as well as band, jazz band, pit orchestra, Bible study club, Rotary interact, history club and the National Honor Society.
LeBaron thanked teachers, coaches, administrators and family “for investing in our lives.”
She said the pandemic disrupted the senior year. The pandemic prevented the seniors from having their own in-person ceremony with all of their classmates.
“These times that we are in have changed our world and they have also changed us,” she said. “I believe each of us will rise out the situation stronger than how we went into it. These trials have shown we have the work ethic and determination to triumph over any situation. And we made it. ”
The class demonstrated perseverance and diligence to overcome obstacles that no other graduating class has faced. She said.
“It’s because of that I believe our class will go on to change the world,” LeBaron said. “The class of 2020 will serve as an example of resilience to all.”
District Superintendent Michael Bonnewell said the class has needed to adapt to unforeseen changes. The superintendent said he appreciated the chance to see the students individually during their personal graduation ceremonies spread out over about 40 hours and 10 days. They were spaced out in 15-mnute intervals.
That was the first time the students had been inside the high school in three months.
Bonnewell said he wished there could have been a large ceremony. Commencement usually has about 2,000 people inside the gym. The state capped the ceremonies to no more than 150 people and that was if they were outdoors. Indoor gatherings were limited to 25 people.
“Class of 2020, this is certainly not the graduation and indeed the senior year any of us wanted or had imagined for you,” Bonnewell said.
The class succeeded in the last stretch of their school experience, despite the challenges, he said.
“You persevered, grew and prospered in spite of the pandemic,” he said.
They can go into the next stage of life knowing they have overcome a great challenge.
“I miss you already and always,” Bonnewell told them.
Jennifer Ashbery, the high school principal, praised a class of “accomplishment, resilience and perseverance.”
There were 135 students in the class. Friday’s graduation was the 142nd commencement for Albion.
Kathy Harling, the board president, said the Covid-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented shutdown of schools.
“No one asked for a global pandemic,” Harling said. “No one asked to be confined to their homes for weeks and months on end.”
She said she hoped the pandemic gave students spend more time with their families and also by themselves – “You can be at peace for yourself and enjoy your own company.”
She urged the graduates to take a cooperate approach in their role as citizens.
“The community functions better when we all work together,” Harling said.
Click here to see more photos of the parade on the school district’s website.