Graduates walking across the stage and receiving their diploma. Speeches from the principal, valedictorian and salutatorian. Music from the school band and choir.
Caps tossed in the air as seniors are declared graduates.
Those were all elements of the Paduucah Tilghman High School graduation ceremony Friday — elements of any typical graduation ceremony — but the PTHS celebration of seniors was not typical this year.
A video featuring those moments recorded in the days leading up to graduation was released at 7 p.m. Friday on YouTube, the date and time scheduled for the original graduation ceremony.
At the end, teachers and staff dressed in caps and gowns wished the class congratulations and tossed their caps into the air. A link to the video can be found at paducah.kyschools.us.
First-year Principal Allison Stieg praised the 174 members of the Class of 2020 for its ability to adapt to the changing times.
“When we look back upon this class in years to come, I’ll bet we will think of two words: resilience and grit,” Stieg said. “Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or toughness, while grit is having courage and resolve or one’s strength of character.
“What our seniors have been through, especially at the end of this year, I know will only make them stronger. Seniors, you have gotten a taste of what the real world can be like. Sometimes, you just have to make lemonade out of lemons, and I know you’ve made a lot of lemonade lately.”
Salutatorian Ryan Chua gave words of encouragement to his classmates who were watching the video from their homes with their families.
“You’ve heard the expression that life is like a box of chocolates,” he said. “Well, I’m kind of severely allergic to most chocolates, so allow me to substitute a more palatable expression. Life is like a fistful of Sour Patch Kids.
“2020 has been a haphazard year, with one unpredictable disaster after another. ... However, all hope isn’t lost — like I said, fistful of Sour Patch Kids. Right now, things are sour, but eventually, they will turn sweet.”
Chua spoke to his class’s fortune to be living in a time when they can still come together even though they are physically apart.
“We are here, graduating, in the midst of a global pandemic,” he said. “This school, like countless others across the nation, took every measure possible to ensure a graduation for us, and they did it.
“We are lucky to be in a time when we can all be connected even if we are not together. In this time of constant shock, sweetness is simply the absence of sour, but let’s be honest: We’ll take all the sweetness we can get.”
Chua then spoke of the diverse talents of his classmates, whose experiences will help them make their own path and go with the flow.
“We have a phenomenal class,” he said. “We have record breakers, entrepreneurs, talented musicians who earn that word and performed in many competitions and shows.
“We have one of the best track teams in the state and some of the smartest people in Kentucky. Paducah Tilghman is very stacked, and we should be proud of that.”
Valedictorian Kate Criner spoke of the challenges that students have had to overcome at the end of the school year, doing so successfully. She said she asked teachers for three words to describe the Class of 2020.
“One of the words our teachers used most may be confused as merely a product of the world’s current state,” she said. “We are described as resilient, and yes, of course, navigating online school for the past few months and losing nearly every important aspect of our senior year while still choosing to keep our heads up earns us that distinction.
“But so does our willingness to communicate and collaborate with our teachers and classmates."
Criner told her class that graduating in this style, in a way, makes sense.
"I never thought that we were a conventional class," she said. "When I think about all of you, I cannot even begin to generalize. We are not just an artsy class or an athletic class or an academic class. We are not just trouble-makers or creatives or leaders. We are all of that and more.
"Being at Tilghman these past four years has taught me so much. I learned that you can never make too many friends. ... I learned how to find balance and trust in my teams, whether it was during a speech competition, on a tennis court or in a courtroom. But the most important thing that Tilghman has taught me is that you can always ask for help."
Superintendent Donald Shively announced that Chua was named the Distinguished Student of 2020. Other candidates were Criner, Liberty Guyette, Samuel Lambert, Tremieka Mai and Lillian Wisner.
Joining those six seniors as Class of 2020 Honor Students were Nura Anderson, Quimm Atnip, Keiler Belt, Maxx Besaw, Abigail Brindley, Rachel Clark, Paulo Garcia, Joseph Gillituk, Kierstyn Johnson, Mackenzie Johnson, Meah Jordan, Andrew Katz, Erin Kelly, Emily Krall, Dalia Lemus, Emma Massey, Hannah Merriam, Jackson Mundy, Bailee Patel, Katherine Peck, Allee Rudolph, Erin Stafford, Kara Story, Mark Taylor II, Travis Trimble, Timothy Watkins Jr. and Samuel Whelan.
The school’s musical groups put together special performances for the graduation video. The choir had each singer’s portion videotaped and edited into a combined performance of “The Lord Bless and Keep You,” while members of the band put together a similar production of “Songs of Old Kentucky: I. John Riley with Wayfaring Stranger” by Brent Karrick.
The band’s production enabled two performers to play multiple parts, with one student playing two different parts on trombone and another playing three separate percussion instruments.