THREE OAKS — When River Valley Middle/High School Principal Patrick Breen chose “Resilience and Grit” as the building-wide theme for the 2019-2020 school year, he didn’t think students and staff would need to dig so deep into those qualities.

“We’ve definitely been tested this year … our theme has been put to the test,” Breen said during his Keynote Address delivered during the Saturday, July 18, River Valley High School Commencement Ceremony (held on the football field with most of the audience watching graduation on a big screen from a nearby parking area). Graduating seniors moved to seating in front of that screen to view a “Senior Memories” slide show during the ceremony before migrating back to the field for the distribution of diplomas.

“This class has endured it all,’’ Breen said of the seniors about to become graduates. “Thank you Class of 2020 for the lessons you have taught us all in what it means to be resilient and to have grit. You never gave up and you never lowered the bar. Your legacy will always be one of leadership, accomplishment and resilience.”

Class of 2020 Salutatorian Emma Springer said the coronavirus has taken so much from the Class of 2020 including important “lasts” that seniors before this year experienced such as the class’s last prom, Spirit Week, and that final at-bat, putt, hurdle, sprint, pitch, concert or play.

She said River Valley’s Class of 2020 does not want to, and does not deserve to, be remembered as the class that was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because we are so much more that what the coronavirus stole from us. In fact, I do not know a group of young people more dedicated to their school, more driven, focused and competitive in all they do, and more supportive to everyone they know than my classmates,” Springer said. “You went above and beyond in every aspect of high school whether it was sports, music, theater, academics, clubs or Spirit Week festivities.”

She noted that they upset the then-seniors in Homecoming Week competitions, had a working TV on their float, broke the tug-of-war rope and had representation in all sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities.

Springer said gratitude can serve as an an anchor during the storm, noting that members of the CLass of 2020 may be grateful for parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teammates, cast-mates, bandmates, coaches, directors and mentors, classmates, their community, maybe a teacher who impacted them, God or your guardian angel.

“And I think it is safe to say that we are all grateful for our guardian superhero (River Valley student David Hicks, who lost a battle with a rare form of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma in 2017) because he was an incredible friend and an inspiration to us all.”

“Here we all are in our caps and gowns with our family and friends in the crowd supporting us when it was uncertain we would ever be recognized for our hard work and accomplishments. That alone is plenty to be grateful for … Remember to always be grateful”

Valedictorian Logan Payne said tumultuous, changing and uncertain are three words that describe the world we live in right now.

“Not exactly words of comfort for those of us getting ready to disembark from the unwavering support of the Three Oaks community.”

Payne said the Class of 2020 is graduating into a new era of social awareness, filled with both social advancement and social strife, creating the opportunity to “reflect on how we interact with the world and people around us … and how to stay motivated when it feels like so much has been taken from us.”

“Our interdependence on those around us really shone through when people fought over toilet paper of all things, and when we started going stir crazy without being able to see each other. And yet we continued accomplishing, continued celebrating and continued moving forward — A testament to our resilience and flexibility, which in a globalizing society will be imperative for improvement and advancement.”

Payne said he was once told you should view every opportunity like you would view jumping on to a moving train.

“You have to be cautious enough to know when to jump, but risky enough to jump in the first place,” he said. “Similarly when an new opportunity arises you have to be cautious enough to know if you should consider investing your time into it, but also risky enough to act on it.”

He compared this year’s seniors’ time at River Valley to “a jumble of trains coming and going, all of us jumping at different opportunities.”

“But our leaps have been guided, directed, and for the most part pre-determined. Regardless, we are very versed in making this guided leap with the help of parents, teachers and advisors illustrated by everything we have accomplished as a class.”

Payne said this generation’s actions will be important in the changing world they’re graduating into.

He also said ‘’thank you for everything” to families, friends, coaches, mentors and teachers.

“So Class of 2020, remember where you’ve come from and utilize everything you’ve gained from your time here at River Valley to prepare you for the next opportunity rolling down the tracks.”

Senior Class President Madison Lumley opened her address by sating, “Nothing about this year is normal, but nothing about the River Valley Class of 2020 is normal either, and I mean that in the best way possible.”

“This class is determined, hard-working and definitely the most competitive class I’ve seen throughout my years at River Valley.”

She thanked the teachers for passing along their wisdom.

“You had faith in us even when we didn’t have faith in ourselves. You had so much confidence that we would be able to have our own graduation ceremony that here we are today having a real commencement and not just a Zoom meeting with a mailing in of our diplomas,” Lumley said.

She also thanked parents and families for “all the volunteering and donation of time” that has “meant everything to us.”

Lumley said she has known the majority of her classmates since the first grade.

“We have literally grown up with each other. We were born in the era of the September 11th terrorist attacks, we lived through changes that took place in our schools … after the Sandy Hook shooting. We are now living through a worldwide pandemic. We didn’t have senior skip day, we didn’t have the talent show...”

Lumley said she was literally scared of everything when she was younger, adding “I’m still scared of things, but I overlook fear.”

“You are allowed to be afraid to do something, but be afraid and do it anyway. Don’t let fear stop you from being extraordinary.”

In his Keynote Address, Breen noted, “We have a class that is graduating every single senior, with almost 30 percent of them earning a 3.5 GPA or higher. They have participated in more college-level courses, advanced-placement courses and career-tech ed courses than ever. While we never got to see some of the amazing athletic accomplishments come to fruition, they stayed committed as students and showed resilience in the most respectful way by building a strong foundation for their future while leaving behind a legacy for others to follow.”

He said the River Valley CLass of 2020 has much to be proud of.

“You have accomplished so much in your time at River Valley. You have raised the bar and elevated our expectations for those who follow.”

Breen said graduates are entering a world that is ripe for change, and their generation will be the ones to change it. He also recognized parents, families and staff who all deserve sincere thanks and gratitude along with the Board of Education for helping open doors to amazing opportunities.

Breen listed his four hopes for the Class of 2020:

1. “I hope you will continue to accomplish greatness … because you want to positively impact those around you.”

2. “I hope you will stay informed and stay true to who you are in this ever changing, hostile world.”

3. “I hope you influence others with optimism.”

4. “I hope you come back to River Valley.”

The top Class of 2020 Scholar-Athletes (Wil Korbel and Emma Springer) were recognized on stage during the commencement ceremony.

Senior Hannah Weaver sang the National Anthem at the start of graduation.

And students (including some graduating seniors) from the cast of the canceled school musical “Fiddler on the Roof” sang “Sunrise, Sunset.”

Members of the River Valley High School Class of 2020 (each introduced with a recitation of their achievements, scholarships and future plans) are: Levi David Ashby; Jacob Stephen Ashcraft*; Jacob Andrew Barbour; Tawnie Yvonne Bell; Sophia Marie Bender*; Davyd Lester Bronson; Connor Joseph Brown*; Ty James Daniel; Victoria Rose DesLauries*; Dorian DeWitt Elizabeth Frances Erickson*; Hannah Marie Hall*; Timothy Allen Fadder-Hollingsworth; Abigail Marie Flick; Kenneth James Gibson*; Cooper Alton Harrington*; Brandon John Henrichsen; Christopher Nicholas Kendall; William Frederick Korbel*; Alan Charles Lang*; Kyleigh Morgan LePinske*; Jason Michael Lull; Madison Grace Lumley*; Tylar Christopher Montgomery; Aidan Thomas Olson*; Ella Jean Olson; Mackenzie Leighann Pannozzo; Noe Patino-Nuñez*; Logan Robert Payne***; Maya Elizabeth Preece; Matthew James Rhyne; Allyson Renee Rochefort; Allison Marie Schmidt*; Matthew Robert Schmidt*; Steven Andrew Seifert; Minisno Richard Shingwauk; Emma Nicole Springer**; Chloe Madeline Stanage*; Levi Russell Strauss*; Carson James Taylor; Hannah Nicole Weaver; Elijah David Witter*; Emily Elizabeth Wohler*; and Halie Elizabeth York.

— * indicates Honor Cord; ** Salutatorian; *** Valedictorian.

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