By Isaiah Smith, CNI Regional News
Despite being forced to end the academic year in an atypical fashion, Tallulah Falls School held a somewhat-traditional graduation ceremony for its 62 seniors Friday night.
The ceremony, which was held in the upper school parking lot, was limited to only graduates and their immediate families in order to allow for social distancing.
“I’m proud for the graduates, because I bet at least 90% of the told me how disappointed they were that they weren’t having a graduation,” said TFS President and Head of School Larry A. Peevy. “I’m so glad things have lightened up a little bit and we were able to practice our social distancing and have this outside, because there’s nothing in my opinion that’s more important than this in your life than being here and getting this closure and moving on to the next step.”
Many of the school’s international students were not in attendance also due to travel restrictions from COVID-19. However, the school was able to allow them to participate virtually and be recognized in the ceremony.
“While we understand not every graduate was able to attend tonight we wanted to celebrate them all,” said Upper School Academic Dean Kim Popham during the ceremony. “Each graduate has made a tremendous impact on this campus.”
Salutatorian Jihee Han was one of the international students unable to attend, and she reflected on that while addressing the crowd virtually.
“It is unfortunate that not all of us were able to attend graduation in person and instead are participating in this virtual graduation from places all over the world,” said Han. “But in spite of this unfortunate situation, we still have a lot to be grateful for.”
Han also thanked her parents, teachers and friends who helped her reach this point before congratulating the senior class and expressing confidence in them to make change in the world.
“I don’t expect us to fix all the problems in the world and be in a history textbook, but I know that we are all going to at least change something in our life and the life of our loved ones,” Han said. “A great person is not just the one who changes the world, but also the one who can make the life of the one beside you better. Class of 2020, make smart choices, be a better person, and I wish you all the best. I love you guys and miss you all.”
TFS Valedictorian Sophia Alexander also said that even with her senior year being vastly different from what she expected, she was thankful for the memories and experiences the shortened school year brought.
“I think it is safe to say that this senior year has been unlike anything we could have envisioned,” Alexander said. “For one, I am giving this speech in my supposed-to-be prom dress, and you are all sitting six feet or more apart. Even though this year, and our entire high school experience, was cut short, we still made some amazing memories.”
The valedictorian also thanked those who helped her achieve the honor before compelling the graduating class to appreciate the things in life that can so easily be taken for granted.
“A chapter of our lives is coming to an end in a way that we never expected. As the next one begins, I hope that we can move forward with a new appreciation of the things that we used to take for granted, like the ability to hug a friend,” Alexander said. “I encourage you to take the opportunity you have in these last few months before college begins to spend time with your family and loved ones. Cherish those close to you and value your time together.”
Alexander also spoke about classmate Stephen Bowman, saying that the class of 2020 would forever cherish and remember his legacy.
Bowman, a member of Tallulah Falls’ Class of 2020, drowned in Lake Hartwell on June 13.
“Even today, as we are gathered for this joyous occasion, we feel the absence of one of our classmates, Stephen Bowman,” Alexander said. “He should have been graduating with us, and we are all heartbroken at the news of his passing. We remember him and his legacy of love and service as we celebrate today.”
Bowman left an impression on many, as his kindness, thoughtfulness and willingness to serve touched many of his classmates. After graduation, classmates shared more memories of Bowman.
“I remember he worked at the theater where he would sometimes be lucky enough to bring home a movie poster,” said TFS senior Samuel Dunlap. “Almost every time he chose to give me a poster, simply because he knew I loved cinema.”
Classmate Cassidy Elliott recalled a recent hiking trip with Bowman where the two spent time talking about their plans and goals for the future.
“Bowman was more than a classmate. He was my friend,” Elliott said. “I miss him more than words can describe.”
During the ceremony, Peevy presented Bowman’s parents with his diploma. Also, all 42 graduates in attendance presented the Bowman family with a rose to honor his memory.
Peevy also spoke to the graduates and commended them for showing toughness in the face of the adversity that the school year brought them, and he also challenged them to go forth and be significant in the next phases of their lives.
“I would wish you success, but success looks inward. Significance looks outward and focuses on what impact you have on others, and that’s what’s really important,” Peevy said. “You’ve achieved success by being here tonight. Now I challenge you to go forth from here and strive to be significant, and you’ll make a difference not only in your life, but in the lives of others.”