OTTUMWA — Quentin Bishop raised his smartphone and took a selfie with his fellow graduates as the backdrop.
“To refrain from breaking a social norm, I will still be taking a selfie with everyone here,” Bishop said to chuckles from the crowd.
It was one of the few “normal” aspects of what has been an abnormal few months for the Ottumwa High School Class of 2020, which celebrated its second graduation ceremony Sunday at Schafer Stadium.
There were 303 seniors eligible to to graduate, but many had left for other endeavors, and COVID-19 continues to linger; 98 students went through the line at this ceremony. Students were socially distanced on every other yard line, and several were masked. Still, principal Richard Hutchinson believed this was the proper way to salute a group that had endured plenty over the last few months.
“I think it was really important for this class. They deserved it. It’s times like this when these kids really know they’re special, so I’m glad we were able to pull it off,” he said.
The school engineered a drive-up ceremony in May, but officials wondered if it would be possible to have an outdoor ceremony at some point.
“If we could get around the COVID-19 restrictions, and things loosened up, we’d give them a formal graduation,” Hutchinson said. “We kept our promise.”
Bishop, the class president, envisioned long ago that one of his worst fears would be tripping up the steps at the high school on the path to graduation. COVID-19 offered other challenges.
“I wasn’t sure what to call it. Was it an extra long spring break? Or a maybe the longest skip day ever recorded?” he asked his classmates. “Whatever it may be, we are the class that will be remembered for many years to come because of it. Our class is the class that others will look toward for guidance.
“When the going gets tough, we aren’t the ones to throw in the towel early,” he said. “Although there were some days where we wanted to quit, we will all finish what we started 13 years ago. We’re also the generation of 9/11. We’re the generation that has faced adversity and bounced back stronger than ever.”
After Bishop’s speech, the six valedictorians — Alli Bookin-Nosbisch, Grace Bookin-Nosbisch, Ryan Eddy, Ashley Fish, Hasya Joshi and Carollin Mellin — were acknowledged. All six managed a 4.0 grade point average in all subjects during their four years.
Seventy-four more students earned a GPA of at least 3.25 to earn honors.
The ceremony was also the first taken in by new superintendent Michael McGrory, who turned tassels of graduates as they walked through the line. McGrory was hired to his post late last month.
“Anytime you can bring kids together and celebrate an accomplishment they’ve had can only be a positive,” Hutchinson said. “There’s just something that tells our kids that we appreciate what they did.
“COVID-19 has changed the way we will live forever,” he said. “We just want to give them some normality for something they’ve waited 13 years to do.”