A golden graduation: South Albany holds 50th commencement ceremonies
When John Hunter became principal at South Albany High School this past fall, the student leadership had a request for him: Could they all graduate together?
With easing pandemic restrictions, it turns out they could.
Close to 300 students in South Albany's 50th class celebrated together one last time Tuesday, receiving their diplomas on the RedHawks football field instead of in the usual Linn County Fair & Expo building so there would be enough room to practice social distancing.
"They got their biggest wish," Hunter said.
A 50th celebration usually is known as "golden," and Tuesday's ceremony complied: golden honors stoles, golden National Honor Society cords, golden sunflowers for each graduate and golden evening light spilling over the whooping and cheering audience.
"You are all golden," Hunter told the graduates. "I challenge you to go out into the world and be golden."
In many ways, students said, their high school career felt like anything but golden. The class of 2021 went through three principals, two fires and two years of construction before capping everything off with months of remote learning prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have probably put up with more than any other class," Rena Howard, Associated Student Body spirit officer, said during her speech Tuesday. "We are probably the most successful and resilient class to walk these halls."
However, Howard noted, she and her classmates learned a few things in the process.
"One, make sure you are muted when you join a Zoom (class)," she said.
Howard also urged her classmates to never take the small things for granted and to understand that nothing lasts forever.
Class President Ella Galvan agreed and encouraged the group to enjoy every minute.
"We never know when something as simple as school will be taken away from us," she said.
After the ceremony, graduates moved off the field together before reuniting with friends and family.
Creed Bodily said the year had its high points, such as "going to class in pajamas," while remote learning gave Hayden DeLair the opportunity "to go outside more often."
"I was excited to see all my friends; last chance to see everyone before we all split up and go our separate ways," said Camden DeFord.
Some are going farther than others. Megan Carter decorated her mortarboard with the British Union Jack and a picture of herself as a little girl to signify her next steps: moving to London to study international law. The picture of herself when she was small, she said, "is because she never thought she might be going."
Josie McNabb also plans a big move, but not for a while yet. She plans to study nursing at Chemeketa Community College and then move to Los Angeles to enroll in film school.
"I've got to get a degree where I can earn some good money before I go to film school," she said.