Graduating 2020 style

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It was a graduation like no other in the history of Quitman High School commencement exercises. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closing of schools, this year’s senior class has had to endure hardships that had never been seen.

The 73 seniors of the QHS Class of 2020 had graduation by a YouTube video last Friday night. Students had been filmed receiving their diplomas prior to Friday and it was put together and available for viewing. 

After the opening pledge of allegiance led by Ben Burroughs, Julia Simpkins gave the invocation. Class salutatorian Jace Reid was first to give a speech.

“When I imagined myself giving this speech I did not ever think of the possibility that it would not be in front of my fellow seniors,” he said. “I was looking forward to the end of the year getting to finish out my last seasons of high school sports, having fun on senior trips and just enjoying my last days of high school. Sadly, a little thing called the coronavirus had other plans for us. At first, it felt like spring break was just going to be a couple of extra weeks and that was fine with me. Then Gov. Abbott closed schools for the rest of the year. No more seeing each other in the halls, no more dying in athletics, no more anything. However, I still have some pretty great memories.”

Reid reflected on the year. “Yes, this time we are living in is hard, and yes, we may not get to see each other much. Just remember one thing, I believe Jane Austen says it best when she says, ‘Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.’ While the future may look foggy for now, especially with everything going on in the world, know that you can look into the past and use those memories of goodness and wonder to fuel us for tomorrow,” Reid affirmed. “A lot of people in the world are negative about what the future is going to be and what is to become, but we don’t have to be. We can use our great memories with each other to create more great ones in the future.”

Reid is the son of Jim and Brooke Reid and he will attend Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartelsville, Okla. on a basketball scholarship and hopes to become a teacher and coach. His final grade point average was 4.1977.

After Reid’s speech, Class of 2020 Valedictorian Jordyn Blalock was next to honor those who led the way. “I hope you didn’t have any difficulty logging into this very unique graduation. To the teachers of Quitman High School, thank you for caring for us and for providing us with an exemplary learning environment and finding fun and creative ways to teach us new things. To the administration and staff of QISD, thank you for making the past four years as great as they can be. To the school board, thank you for making your decisions with the best interest of the students in mind. And to my family and the families of every senior in the Class of 2020, thank you for supporting us doing every thing you can to help us feel appreciated and celebrated during hard times like these.”

Blalock spoke about the effects of COVID-19. “Although we didn’t know it at the time, we had our last walk as students down the halls of QHS. We went on spring break with the idea we would come back to school and make our last memories with our class. Unfortunately, that is not what happened,” Blalock noted. “Some of us may have been excited about the extended break, but as more and more that we as seniors look forward to for our entire high school career began to be taken away because of COVID-19. Many of us lost the opportunity to participate in activities like softball, baseball, track, theater and FFA. We lost senior trips, a traditional senior prom and the ability to have a normal graduation.”

Blalock said, “We are making history. We had parades that followed all the rules of social distancing and have somehow managed to grow closer as a class even though we are apart. This experience has taught us we should never wish away our moments. We have learned to appreciate rather than complain. Before COVID-19 I don’t think that anyone has heard this many high school students say that they wished they could go back to school. Now we regret all of the times we said we wished we could just graduate already.”

Blalock challenged her classmates. “A few weeks ago I sat and talked to my mother. She said that when she was pregnant with me she wondered what kind of world she was bringing her child into because of the recent 9/11 attacks. She said she now wonders what kind of world I am going into as an adult. I thought of what she said and I had my answer,” Blalock asserted. “Class of 2020, we are entering a world we are equipped to handle. We have gone through a lot, especially these past few months. I truly believe we all prepared to handle anything the world throws at us. I hope that each and every one of you will only allow this situation to make you stronger. I hope as things go back to normal, we do not forget to appreciate the moments we are given. Seniors think back to this and remember how high school went from something you had to do and were not happy about in the slightest to something you couldn’t do when you actually wanted to. Take opportunities as they come and never take anyone for granted. We still made it and I know there are great things to come for all of us.”

Blalock is the daughter of Matt and Rachel Blalock and she plans to attend Texas Tech University to get a bachelors degree in animal science and focus on pre-professional health. Her final grade point average was 4.216.

Principal Dana Hamrick announced scholastic honors and certified the Class of 2020. The benediction was given by Bianca Conn and the class dismissal by Jentri Jackson. The seniors finished the evening with the school song one last time. 

Senior class officers for the class were President Jace Reid, Vice President Jentri Jackson, Secretary Julia Simpkins, Treasurer Ben Burroughs and Historian Bianca Conn. 

High Honor graduates who were in the top 10 percent of the class were Jordyn Blalock, Savannah Breding, Shelby Hayes, Jentri Jackson, Jace Reid, Andrea Soldevilla and Cheyenne Williams. Honor graduates who had a 3.85 cumulative grade point average were Ben Burroughs, River Chaney, Jaci Coley, Riley Flanagan, Maria Rowland and Julia Simpkins.