At Last! MHS Class of 2020 takes the stage

Jeremy Ratliff

While a couple months later than expected, having overcome many unexpected obstacles and setbacks, and certainly not in the fashion most anyone would ever have previously imagined; the Merrill High School graduating class of 2020 defied the sweltering summer heat as they took center stage on the morning of Saturday, July 25.
Typically held at the MHS Field House, this year’s 137th MHS commencement ceremony was held in the Merrill High School parking lot.
As MHS Principal Shannon Murray explains, the original 2020 graduation date was set for May 24, but with many uncertainties facing schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, district staff began exploring other options in mid-March.
“In mid March we started exploring our options, all largely based on future unknowns.  We decided to pick a date at the end of summer but before most people would be leaving for college, etc.  July 25th was the date we hoped for.  The Lincoln County Health Department recommendations steered us toward having the event outdoors and in a model that spaced out students in a socially distanced manner,” Murray adds.
Due to space restrictions, each graduate was given one ticket which would allow one vehicle to attend the ceremony.  Families were asked to remain in their cars and listen to the ceremony live on WJMT or watch it live streamed.
Of the handful of speakers in attendance at the morning ceremony were MHS Principal Shannon Murray, Keynote Speaker Adam Yirkovsky, MAPS Board of Education President Kevin Blake and MAPS Superintendent Dr. John Sample. Delivering a special message to COVID-19, were 2020 Class Officers Kamille Ament, Eve Akey, Sadie Wakefield and Sophia Schroeder.
Of the many accomplishments by the Class of 2020, as discussed by Murray, was the $1.4 million in post-secondary scholarships awarded to graduating seniors.
“Merrill has always had a really good, robust scholarship program but thanks to the generosity of the Merrill community,  $ 1.4 million is a significant accomplishment,”
Other accomplishments cited by Murray included the Merrill High School Youth Apprenticeship Program being the largest in the state.
In his farewell address to the 193-member graduating class of 2020, Murray didn’t hesitate to recognize the unexpected adversity students have faced and overcome this year.
“For all these accomplishments, the thing we’ll miss most about this group is that they’re really wonderful people,” Murray said. “I think back to that freshman year…when they were 14 years old, exiting the bleachers of Merrill High School for their first day of school. On that first day of school, I failed to tell them the last one-third of their school year would be spent in their kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms doing online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I failed to tell them they wouldn’t have spring sports their senior year, or prom or the spring musical, and a host of other things they look forward to their senior year, because we were shut down. I certainly didn’t tell them their graduation would be held in a parking lot in July.” Murray added.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see that coming…but even through all that, the class of 2020 has showed a level of grit, optimism, hope and resilience that will serve you very well the rest of your lives. As principal of Merrill High School I am very proud of the class of 2020 for overcoming all you have had to face this year.”

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