For Cooper Withey, high school graduation marks the end of his days sitting in the classroom.
“After this? I’ll just be working, I don’t really want the college debt or any of that business,” said Withey, a new graduate of Homer High School. “Looking back, I realized how easy the beginning of high school was. Then, there was COVID. I kind of realized how hard it was learning from home compared to at school.”
He learned remotely for his first semester of senior year — not returning to in-person learning until four months before graduation.
While the 2020-21 school year featured remote learning — a safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic — it concluded with Withey and his 127 other classmates graduating Saturday morning, in-person — the first graduation ceremony on Butts Field to feature the entire graduating class at once.
“Am I excited to be done with school? I usually just say, ‘Yes,’ to fit the narrative,” said senior class President Sienna Haskins. “But I hesitate — it’s not a simple yes or no answer.”
In her speech, Haskins reminisced on the memories she had of high school, while acknowledging the effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on students’ mental health.
“We went through a lot this year, more than any of us were prepared for,” she said. “We struggled. Many of us went through a very difficult time, including myself. There were so many things that we missed out on.”
“I am excited to start deciding what I want to do with my life,” Haskins said.
Many of her classmates are in the same boat — choosing between higher education or entering the work force.
Withey plans to start working at Meldrim’s Paint Center in Cortlandville, while his friends have plans for community or four-year colleges.
Superintendent Thomas Turck’s told graduates that despite their struggles for the past 15 months, they are neither broken nor victims.
“Do not let anyone tell you that you are diminished because of the difficulties you’ve experienced,” Turck said. “You have the opportunity to be the next great generation because of — not in spite of — the things that you’ve endured. You are incredible, every single one of you.”
The graduates showed strength, he said, adding he is proud of who they have become and who they will be.
“I’m excited for next year, when I don’t have to take COVID classes — no more classes from home, just regular classes around other people,” said Sam Bradshaw. He attended in-person classes when he could, preferring to go to school than learn from home.
Jared Fox said although he’s excited for college, he’s going to miss sleeping in.
“I liked remote learning because I could just wake up every morning five minutes before class started, and just join my class online,” Fox said. “What I’m looking forward to most? Honestly, probably nothing — the easiest part of my life is over now, it’s kind of sad. But yeah, I’m looking forward to next year, and no more COVID.”