Albany Options School senior class speaker McKayla Keuter had two words to sum up the class of 2020’s journey to the stage Wednesday night: "Holy cow."
Keuter addressed 52 of the 63 graduates who sat in chairs that dotted a square of the parking lot of the Linn County Fair & Expo Center in a socially distanced graduation ceremony. It was marked by the now-familiar features of the year shaped by virus. Masks, a sign of unity all marked with the school’s Knight mascot, chairs that were six feet apart, and families in cars nearby and the ceremony streamed online and on local radio stations.
“This year had many setbacks but we accomplished every single one,” Keuter said. “We made it. I wonder what else we can do in the future.”
Albany Options School serves as the Greater Public Albany Schools district’s alternative high school, but as Principal John Hunter reminded the class of 2020 on Wednesday, its members are not defined by such a label.
“AOS isn’t the third high school in town, it’s the best high school in town and you should always remember that," he said.
Hannah George, who will be taking a gap year then attending Linn-Benton Community College, plans to become a kindergarten teacher.
“It feels really, really good. I thought I wasn’t going to get (a ceremony) and get my diploma mailed to me," she said. "All throughout high school, I wasn’t very academically proud of myself. But then, at the end, I told myself, ‘If I want to pursue something, I have to do what I’m supposed to do.’”
George made straight A's her senior year.
And while AOS still managed a graduation, it had to reconfigure its normal graduation traditions in a year already marked with changes. Hunter, after serving as principal for five years, presided over Wednesday’s ceremony as his final act at AOS. In the fall, he will take the helm at South Albany High School.
Mark Hannan, who was present Wednesday night, will step into Hunter’s ever fashionably socked shoes as principal.
“It’s unique,” Hannan said prior to the ceremony. “I certainly wouldn’t want this to be the norm, but I’m going to observe and if we’re in this situation in the spring, we’ll take the things we’ve learned from this and improve but my comfort level is definitely to be doing this in a theater or pavilion where all the families can show up and talk about kids in-depth without having the issue of social distancing as a barrier to celebration.”
Social distancing aside, the class managed to celebrate to a symphony of car horns as teachers managed to hold onto one AOS tradition: addressing the class directly.
Math teacher Danny Corliss, a class favorite, asked the class to reflect on how far they’ve already come.
“You have already overcome something,” he said. “I want to leave you with a quote from my favorite person, Gandalf (of "The Lord of the Rings"). Maybe you’re feeling like you wish you weren’t graduating during a pandemic but Gandalf would say, 'So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.'”