Posted Date: 06/15/2020
Credit: Standard Democrat
SIKESTON — For the class of 2020, their vision was clear Thursday night as their peers encouraged them to venture out on their own paths, be who they want to be and keep their heads held high no matter where the future takes them.
Approximately 240 Sikeston High School and New Horizons High School graduates received diplomas in an outdoor, socially-distanced ceremony Thursday during the 119th annual commencement at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium.
Leading the class in academics were Layan Alkilani as valedictorian and Emily Boyd as salutatorian.
Sikeston seniors along with parents and family social distance during the 119th Annual Commencement Program for Sikeston High School held at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium Thursday, June 11, 2020. (Alex Wallner/Standard Democrat)
Alkilani, who is the daughter of Hadeel and Muhannad Alkilani, had 4.51 GPA. She served as senior class president, Astra Club president, FBLA vice president, National Honors Society vice president Key Club Treasurer and more. She also participated in varsity track. Alkilani plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis this fall.
Boyd, who had a 4.48 GPA, is the daughter of Paul and Dee Dee Boyd. She played on the varsity soccer team, and she was a member of Student Council, National Honors Society, DECA, FBLA, ASTRA, yearbook and more. She also plans to attend Washington University.
While the COVID-19 pandemic did change the ceremony somewhat —there was no live music, a different spaced out layout and limited, ticketed seating, a traditional graduation was still able to be had.
Sikeston senior Layan Alkilani is awarded her valedictorian medal during the 119th Annual Commencement Program for Sikeston High School held at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium Thursday, June 11, 2020. (David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
Alkilani presented the speakers for the ceremony, and Boyd read the senior poem, “Moving Ahead,” which she wrote.
“Though a curveball was thrown into our final year, it should not take away from our wonderful memories here,” Boyd said. “...As we continue on life’s constant climb, now is the time where we begin to venture out on our own and leave behind everything we’ve ever known.”
Boyd went on to talk about their transition into different places.
Sikeston senior Emily Boyd is awarded salutatorian during the 119th Annual Commencement Program for Sikeston High School held at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium Thursday, June 11, 2020. (David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
“Now, remember graduates, you can always look back and remember your home here, ‘neath the red and the black,” Boyd said.
Selected speakers Brynna Wiese and Rory Jaynes each then gave speeches.
In “Through the Lens,” Wiese, who served as the head of photography for the Growler yearbook, discussed how she’s had the opportunity over the years to see Sikeston in a “beautiful, cinematic way” through her camera lens as she covered high school events.
Sikeston senior Seth Copeland accepts his diploma during the 119th Annual Commencement Program for Sikeston High School held at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium Thursday, June 11, 2020. (David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
“Looking back through the photos I’ve taken throughout the years, I’ve realized that a lot has changed for us Sikeston 2020 seniors,” Wiese said as she listed memories special to her class. “… You don’t need a camera to capture these things in your mind. … Change is good. … But change is hard.”
She encouraged her peers to live in the moment, which she’s captured over and over throughout the years.
“Now it’s your turn,” Wiese told her class. “Grab your own camera and go to your own games. … Don’t let people tell you how to pose or where to stand. … Go be whatever you want to be.”
Rory Jaynes delivers her Senior speech "The Final Chapter" during the 119th Annual Commencement Program for Sikeston High School held at Sikeston Public Schools Stadium Thursday, June 11, 2020. (David Jenkins/Standard Democrat)
In her speech, “The Final Chapter,” Jaynes recalled how as freshmen, the students were given a letter to write to their future selves, something to look back on at the end of their senior year, remembering their goals and everything they wanted to accomplish in high school.
“We had big dreams and specific ideas of what we wanted our years at Sikeston High School to look like, yet I don’t think a single one of us wrote down that we wanted a shorter senior year. But that is exactly what we got,” Jaynes said.
Jaynes said after going through these past few months, she truly understands the value of tradition. They watched as the three classes before them experienced their last senior moments.
“Our day never came and while it’s no one’s fault, the class of 2020 was left to grieve the end we were supposed to have. In fact, we weren’t sad because it ended, but because we didn’t get a last goodbye.
Their last day of school was March 17 and they didn’t get to say their official goodbyes.
“And there is no worse grief than not knowing that your last goodbye is going to be your last goodbye,” Jaynes said.
They did’t get to close their chapter, but they must accept it and soak up their last remaining moments, she said.
“We were born during 9/11 and will be graduating during a pandemic. In the midst of the tragedy, we come together and no matter where our paths take us, we will also be connected…. We’ve been raised in a world that forces us to keep our heads up and look towards the future.”
High School Principal Doyle Noe, who was introduced by Taydrianna Barnett, then announced honors and awards of graduates.
Superintendent Dr. Tony Robinson, who was introduced by Isabelle McGill, presented the class while past Board of Education President Matt Tanner, who was introduced by J’Marlon Moore, handed out diplomas. High School Academic Principal Tiffany Morgan and New Horizons High School Principal Jeff Williams also helped announce graduates as they received diplomas.
Members of SHS’ class of 2020 generated nearly $1.5 million in scholarships. For most of the graduates, plans are underway for life after high school. Many planned to attend a four-year college in the fall, according to according SHS senior counselor Kim Thornbrough. Popular college choices include Washington University, Southeast Missouri State University, University of Missouri and Mississippi State.
“This is a very creative group who was bold enough to try things differently,” said SHS counselor Heather Self about the class of 2020. “… They were bold enough to challenge ideas. They have a passion in them to make the world better. They’re not real self-centered. They were very outward-centered.”
Despite the delay in their graduation, which was originally set for May 7, the new graduates seemed to be optimistic about their futures beyond high school.
Graduate Seth Steelman said he is leaving for Army basic training in about 12 days.
“I will be doing Reserves so whenever I get back, I’ll actually start my second semester of college at Southeast Missouri State University,” he said.
Steelman said he wants to major in criminal justice and minor in music. He’d also like to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice.
“If I enjoy the Army enough, I’ll see if I can go into basic, or I’ll see if I can go into the FBI,” he said.
A shortened senior year due to the pandemic hasn’t been too bad, Steelman said.
“Not too much has changed except a lot of things have gotten canceled. Of course, around here, we’re taking quite mild precautions. I’m glad we can still do the few things that involve being a senior considering a third of our year got canceled,” he said.
Brittin Western said he was excited his class was able to have graduation outside on Thursday.
“No matter how long we had to wait; I’m glad it’s outside,” he said of the ceremony.
Western plans to attend Three Rivers College to study criminal justice, and afterward, he wants to attend the Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy, which, he said, is something he’s always wanted to do.
Western also participated in Next Step, which is a partnership program between New Horizons High School and Alan Wire.
The program allows for selected students to go to school in the morning and work for Alan Wire in the afternoon. The students are able to gain school credit and actually get paid working for the company.
Western said he was glad he participated in the program.
“It gives you a view of what it’s like working in a factory,” he said.
Makayla Hutton, who graduated with 42 college credit hours, plans to major in animal science at Southeast Missouri State University and would like to become a veterinarian. She received Southeast’s most prestigious scholarship —the President’s Scholarship. She had to go through an interview process and was one of only five graduating seniors to receive the scholarship.
“I appreciate all the college credits I was able to get in high school. It hard work, but it was worth it because I’m going to be a vet and even after SEMO, I have to go to vet school,” Hutton said.
Overall, the new graduates want the class of 2020 to be known for its strength and resilience, they said.
“All this stuff happened, and we didn’t let it get in the way of being a senior, really, and just kind of enjoyed the rest of the school year,” Steelman said. “Even though this (pandemic) happened, we could still have a handful of things to enjoy. We didn’t let it ruin our senior year.”
Hutton shared the sentiment.
She said: “We always stuck together and did’t let those challenges stop us from finishing and going on to the next stage in our lives.”