Eastern Mennonite High School’s 39 seniors joined the millions across the country in one-of-a-kind commencement exercises this year. On Saturday, June 13, the school’s faculty and administration joined families in celebrating students’ accomplishments and conferring degrees following weeks of building closure due to the coronavirus.
Student speakers were valedictorian Abby Stapleton and salutatorian Ava Galgano. Abby highlighted the strong service commitment of the senior class and the unique gifts each person has to share. Ava named each graduate in her speech, bringing to mind the varied stories and contributions of each one.
Shannon Roth, government and US history teacher and senior class sponsor, called graduates to embrace the discomfort of this time and going forward. “Right now in our country there are many controversial issues that need work. We know that we need big systemic change in race relations, policing, the environment, immigration policy, gender roles, the national debt, healthcare, and the list goes on and on,” said Roth, a member of EMHS class of 2003.
“Listening to others with different perspectives, backgrounds and needs will be key. If we can successfully face these issues and lean in, even while uncomfortable, we can be the change that is needed.” She noted that Jesus was uncomfortable in his life. “Jesus’ entire life and ministry is a story of uncomfortable situations and positions where every single time Jesus leans in to discomfort, regardless of the laws or norms of society. I hope in your time here at EMS, you have been convinced to do the same.”
She encouraged graduates to find a community to support them — and help them be resilient — in the discomfort. “Find a faith community, whether in a formal church setting or in informal devotional or faith formation groups. You also can use your immediate and extended family systems, clubs, friend groups, and others to create community…I encourage each of you to do so because those communities will support and push you in difficult times.”
We need to be open to discomfort,” she said. “Instead of turning away or watching from the sidelines, it is our imperative to lean in. This, this was the life of Jesus, and this is the life of his followers in our world today.” Read the full address here.
Justin King, high school principal, called each graduate to the front, one by one, exiting their cars and making their way across the parking lot. They picked up their diploma as they climbed up to the stage and paused for a distanced picture with Mr. King, and descended to receive the traditional rose, picked up with no touching.
“It was a different, but beautiful and memorable day,” reflected Paul Leaman, head of school. “We thank God for the students and families who have seen this unusual year through to the end, and are grateful to be able to celebrate the gifts these students are ready to share with the world.”
Graduates and guests gathered in family groups at the new bridge connecting the lower and upper buildings on campus for photos.
See links to graduation speeches and images of other celebratory activities, including a senior drive through parade, here.