Class of 2020 makes history with virtual graduation

  • Photo courtesy Grace Nolan. Grace Nolan wears her cap and gown while watching the virtual commencement addresses from fellow classmates.
    Photo courtesy Grace Nolan. Grace Nolan wears her cap and gown while watching the virtual commencement addresses from fellow classmates.

TIGER— Last Friday, Rabun County High School Principal Justin Spillers presented the graduating Class of 2020 in an unprecedented way: virtually. 

Although under unique circumstances, Spillers began commencement with a message of inspiration to students. 

 “As you are all aware, the past nine weeks have presented quite a challenge for the Class of 2020 as they dealt with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and witnessed many of the traditional events, which are a right of passage for seniors, be either postponed or cancelled altogether,” Spillers said. 

“These last few weeks spent together as a class look much different than any of us could have ever imagined, but I want you all to know how incredibly proud I am of the way you have responded. Our seniors have come together to support and care for one another in an incredible way and tonight we’re going to come together and celebrate their achievements as we prepare to recognize the closing of this chapter in their lives and we look to the future with eager expectation for what they will accomplish next.”

Spillers encouraged students to watch the ceremony in their caps and gowns and for family members to blow their air horns and scream and shout when their senior was announced, as they would at a traditional graduation ceremony. 

“Tonight, we stand together with the Class of 2020 and with one voice express our gratitude and respect for all they have accomplished and meant to Rabun County and the Wildcat nation,” Spillers said.

RCHS top students, Ali Ramey, Valedictorian, Will Hightower, Salutatorian, and Mason Sprinkle, Historian each addressed their fellow classmates with messages of hope and inspiration for what the future holds. 

Mason Sprinkle, Historian

Sprinkle began by motivating the Class of 2020 to work to overcome challenges they face in the future. 

“We are a class that’s persevered through many obstacles, challenges and hardships,” Sprinkle said. 

He said these challenges comes in many forms, whether succeeding in athletics or keeping up academically.  

“We’ve had to rise before the obstacles before us and succeeded,” Sprinkle said about getting to the milestone of graduation. “That is why our history, while filled with struggle, is truly a story of success.”

Sprinkle expressed the importance of looking at your history to take pride in your accomplishments, while realizing that they prepare you for handling anything.

“It is truly the Rabun County way to succeed in the things that we do,” Sprinkle said. “While we have faced adversity in the past, all it has done is prepare us for the present and the future to come.”

Will Hightower, Salutatorian

Hightower addressed his peers and urged the importance of living in the moment instead of worrying about documenting the moment to look back to in the future. 

“The present itself is a beautiful idea that never gets the same focus as the future,” Hightower said. “It always seems people are too focused on the future and what has happened in the past.”

Hightower said that although the present is where the memories we can look back on in the future are created, it’s also where we are residing right now. 

“Class of 2020, I want you to always remember your past because there are plenty of lessons to be learned there. And I want you to always remain focused on your future for dreams and plans, as it is important to have your eyes on your goals. However, I don’t want you to be so focused on these aspects that you forget to live in the moment,” Hightower said. 

Because the present is where we can change the world, he added. 

Hightower also thanked the teachers, coaches and parents for all of their support during this difficult time. 

“Class of 2020, never forget that we can get through anything,” Hightower said.  “Attending Rabun County High School has truly been a blessing and I am proud to be able to call myself a wildcat from Rabun County.”

Ali Ramey, Valedictorian

Ramey focused her speech to the Class of 2020 by applauding them for being able to adapt to the constantly changing and uncertain situations they faced this past year.  

“We sure aren’t the same people that are leaving there today,” Ramey said about how much has changed since their freshman year. “Going through this pandemic has proven how suddenly things in our life can change." 

She said that it is amazing how well the families, school and community members have learned to adapt quickly to “make the best of what we have been forced to accept.” 

Ramey went on to say that they have made many memories as the Class of 2020 and will be the only class to say they graduated in such a unique and unprecedented way.

“One thing that we can learn from this year is that when times are tough, look to your loved ones because they will be the ones supporting you and helping you get through it,” Ramey said. "And when times are good, look to those same people because they are the ones who make life worth living.” 

 She said that life after graduation will be tough but that you should always persevere and never give up. 

“But don’t ever lose sight of your destination or forget where you came from, and you will surely reach your goals,” Ramey said. 

Spillers concluded the commencement by offering students advice as they tackle the next step in their journey through life. 

“Every one of you has worked diligently to make the most of the opportunities presented to you at Rabun County High School. You’ve shown unwavering perseverance and grit in achieving the goals you set for yourself,” Spillers said. “While those goals may not all look the same, each of you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished.” 

Spillers told graduates to hold fast to the lessons they learned in their time in Rabun County and know that the challenges they face will not overshadow the successes they are capable of reaching.  

“If you hold fast to those core values of Respect, Character, Honor and Service that you’ve learned during your time here, you can overcome anything,” Spillers said. 

“Never forget where you come from and those who encouraged and supported you along the way.” 

Spillers told students to turn their tassels as he presented the Class of 2020 to everyone watching, and faculty and staff members appeared on screen via video call to scream and cheer and congratulate the seniors.

 Showing support in a unique way, just as they have been doing during these distinctive times.