EDWARDSVILLE - The Edwardsville High School Class of 2020 was honored in a virtual graduation ceremony Saturday morning live-streamed on Riverbender.com, EdGlenToday.com, on the Edwardsville School District's YouTube channel and on other venues both on local cable television and on the internet.

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The commencement exercises were forced online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Edwardsville High, along with all other public and private schools in the state of Illinois, having been closed since March 17.

In his opening speech, retiring principal Dr. Dennis Cramsey expressed his pride toward the graduating class and their accomplishments in their four years at the school.

"Think back nearly four years ago," Cramsey said in his speech. "You were a freshman. You were sitting in the auditorium at Edwardsville High School. It was Friday, August 14, 2016, at 7:50 a.m. You were a little nervous about high school, but didn't really want anyone to know. You were chatting with your friends, and a senior walked onto the stage. The senior class president, Ike Bertles, welcomed you and provided you some advice on how to survive, and make the most of high school. Ike encouraged you to get involved, because high school goes by so fast. Then Ike introduced me. 'And now, I would like to introduce our principal, Dr. Cramsey.' I walked onto the stage, and you could have heard a pin drop. I said "Good morning, Class of 2020,' and I paused. 'The Class With Vision,' and I paused again. I repeated 'The Class With Vision. The Class with 2020 Vision.' Little by little, your smile and nods swept across the auditorium. And at that moment, you were tagged as The Class With Vision."

Cramsey then praised the graduation class, saying they had helped make EHS a better place with their successes in academics, performing arts, athletics and community service. Cramsey also encouraged the graduates to keep achieving despite the difficulties the world is currently facing.

"Like everyone in the world, we could not see this coming,' Cramsey said. "We could never have envisioned this to happen, nor would have anyone written the script. But the pandemic did happen, and it has forever changed our lives. You know, when you are in the valley, it is hard to see what lies in front of you. But when you climb the mountain, you see the beauty of everything around you. I call on you now to rise above the valley we may be sitting in, and see what is in store for you. I call you again The Class With Vision. You are the class with vision. You must rise to our calling, to see the good. Not only to be the class with vision that sees the good, we must be the good. We must be The Class With Vision, and do the good."

In her speech, class salutatorian Danielle Polinske thanked the people in her life who helped teach her that it's not what people look like, or their grades that count, but how people treat others and how one overcomes the obstacles that come their way which defines what kind of person they truly are. She also thanked her family and friends for their help along the way, especially two friends in particular for sticking by her when she was at her worst, and still supported her.

"Like most of us, I am still working on my maturity and kindness today," Polinske said, "but without the two of them, I would still have the same mindset at the petty 14-year-old, without being mean would be the same thing as being humorous. I owe them more than I can express, and I hope one day, everyone can find friends like them, that encourage you not only to be a better person, but to live your life to the fullest extent possible."

Polinske also reminded her fellow graduates that their grades or class rank don't define what kind of person they are, that everyone has potential, and everyone has to decide the best way to use that potential. She also said that this wasn't the graduation that everyone had envisioned, but is a teaching moment for the graduates.

"When the future becomes unclear, we don't give up and accept defeat," Polinske said, "we improvise. Next fall, I will be attending Clemson University in South Carolina. Obviously, South Carolina is a huge change from the Midwest, but I am extremely excited to embark on a new journey, with challenges I have never faced before. However, one thing will remain the same: Once you're a Tiger, you'll always be a Tiger."

Three student leaders - Jacob Kitchen, Aamiya Martin and Student Council president Evan Driscoll - also gave speeches that thanked all the behind-the-scenes workers for their contributions, and encouraged their fellow graduates to make a difference in the world.

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"In these times, I challenge you to go out and make a difference in people's lives," Kitchen said, "by continuing to show your kindness, generosity and gratitude towards others. Our time is now. We are the Tigers. Each of us had made memories at EHS that will last a lifetime. Take these with you as you move forward in the world."

"With all the great memories, there were also times when we learned lessons," Martin said in her speech. "I have learned the value of building relationships from true friendships to building relationships with our staff, who've been pivotal in motivating me through my future. These past four years, I have also learned that sometimes, we go through things, but we can't lose sight of what is important. We must be vigilant in our journey to success, and mindful that our high school career hasn't been easy, but it has prepared us for the future."

Martin also said that although the Class of 2020 faces many challenges ahead, they are a resilient group that can overcome anything put in their way.

"To the class of vision, we are far from average," Martin said, "and we have prospered through all adversities. Just think about it - we were conceived during 9-11, and here we are, eighteen-and-a-half years later, going through another battle as COVID-19 that we are forced to overcome. We are resilient, and we will continue to strive toward our dreams. We may have missed out on things that we may have considered essential, like prom, our official graduation ceremony, senior skip days, and maybe even yearbook day. But we still have not been defeated. Congratulations to my class; we made it. I wish you all the best on your future endeavors as we all embark on this adventure through life. And for the last time, let's make today The Best Day Ever."

Driscoll encouraged his fellow graduates never to take anything for granted, and to cherish each and every moment and friendship as they come.

"I took for granted a real teacher in a real classroom," Driscoll said. "I took for granted how happy I am when I spent time with friends. I took listening to Dr. Cramsey's voice over my headphones during the morning announcements, and even the frantically busy hallways during passing periods for granted too. If we take one lesson away from this situation, it should always be to remember to make the most out of every second. On March 16th, we didn't know we would be attending out last day of high school. The future is truly unpredictable, so let's treat every day like it's our last. Let's create new relationships, strengthen existing ones. Take advantage of the unmatched opportunities found within a classroom, and participate in the activities with happiness."

In his speech, class valedictorian Javier Nieto thanked the faculty and administration for their support during the class' time in high school, and his family and friend for their support long before high school.

"My family moved here from Argentina to the United States in 2000," Nieto said in his speech, "and shortly after, I was born, leaving me as the only American in the family, the gringo of the family. My parents, Maurice and Marcelo, have taught me since the beginning to embrace our own culture and share it with others. It is through these differences that I've been able to connect with my friends, and embrace the differences of others. It's scary to know that moving forward, I'll be seeing less of my family and my friends, and my parents' cooking. But at the end of the day, I will follow what Ralph Waldo Emerson says: "What we fear doing most, is usually what we most need to do.'"

After speeches by class co-presidents Usma Risvi and Bryson Maedge, the Class of 2020 was introduced, with the names and portraits of each graduate on the screen. Three members of the class who had passed away before their graduation were memorialized after the introductions, after which Cramsey made his final remarks.

"Saying goodbye just does not seem fitting today," Cramsey said. "I hope as we part, it is never with the thought that we will never see each other again, although it is likely we will not. But nonetheless, I will never forget you."

Graduating senior Scottlynn Ballard then shared a poem that she wrote especially for the Class of 2020, "To Say Farewell," followed by one final farewell from Cramsey.

"Class of 2020, as we move through our lives, make every day The Best Day Ever," Cramsey said.

More like this:

May 23, 2020 | Edwardsville High Graduating Seniors Pick Up Diplomas, Post For Pictures As School Adjusts To Honor The Class With Vision

May 22, 2016 | EHS 2016 graduating class left its mark in many positive ways

May 8, 2017 | Bertels fulfills his lofty goal of Academic Signing Day

Jun 12, 2020 | Rizvi, Maedge, Lead Effort For Virtual Academic Signing At Edwardsville High School

Sep 17, 2019 | Edwardsville Announces Commended Students in 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program

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