Yes, it took them longer than usual, but the Clinton High School Class of 2020 graduated last Friday.
In a ceremony held on the Clinton City Football Field there was a little of everything — humor, insight, a speech from the heart, and even a dramatic finish. A Hollywood script writer would have trouble matching Friday night’s commencement.
It was also the final official duty of the Clinton High School principal, Dr. Caleb Tipton, who will be the principal at Alcoa High School in the fall.
His remarks to the Class of 2020 were honest and, at times, emotional.
He commented that the Class of 2020 would “Likely not remember a whole lot of what I say anyway, but you will remember walking across the stage and getting your diploma.”
He is probably wrong on the former and spot on about the latter.
Senior Class President Chase Lockard was relieved that the Class of 2020 was having a ceremony. He said he had a vision of Tipton knocking on his door, “Spraying me with Lysol, wearing rubber gloves and a mask and handing me my diploma.”
As a way of thanking staff at Clinton High School, the senior class presented a sort of “class picture” to the school — a collage of photos of students standing in front of billboards congratulating the Class of 2020.
It was a fitting and proper gift. Lockard also congratulated the CHS seniors, dubbing them “The Corona Class.”
Salutatorian Ashley Bunch told her classmates that if they learned anything, they should remember not to take anything for granted. She said she hoped everyone would remember the Class of 2020 as “The class that took a bad situation and made the best of it.”
Valedictorian Anna Cardall urged her classmates to grow — to take the pandemic and all hardships it bestowed and use them to their advantage.
“We can think about ourselves and bring about positive change in our lives, within ourselves very quickly, if we choose to,” she said.
Then, speaking in an almost subdued voice, at times filled with emotion, Dr. Caleb Tipton, who took over as principal at Clinton High School the same year the Class of 2020 entered as freshmen, spoke from his heart.
He said he remembered telling the Class of 2020 at freshman orientation, “I know guys, you’re not going to believe me, but I promise you that 2020 and graduation will be here before you know it. And chances are you might have actually thought I was right about something. Until about mid-March.
“Then it felt like someone threw on the brakes and we all got whiplash because everything came to just a screeching halt.”
He said he struggles every year with coming up with what he wants to say at graduation, because each graduating class is unique — “distinct.”
And the Class of 2020 was no different, but they also had the pandemic to deal with.
“We were forced into a different way of living for a while, and when that happens sometimes we’re also forced to re-examine our routines, our values, our priorities whether we really want to do that or not,” he said.
“As adults and parents and teachers and coaches what we hope is that if anything, we can bring understanding and knowledge to the kids that we care about — to the young people that we work with.
“You know that’s supposed to be our job.
“I want to be able to do that for you. I want to be able to do that for my own children, when they ask me about some of the things that are going on. We want to have answers when you need them. We want to help you solve puzzles and problems in life. That’s what we want.
“I want to be able to weigh everything that’s been going on the last couple of months. And I want to be able to say, ‘But here’s what it means, here’s what I think we should take away from this, here’s what we can learn from everything that’s been going on.’ But sometimes things are much more complex than that.
“And what I really want to do is put everything in a nice, neat little package and just lay it out there for you.
“But I can’t. I won’t be able to do that. I won’t be able to have a really great answer sometimes.
“I won’t be able to have a great answer that will magically take away some of the frustration and disappointment and sadness and anger that many of you might have experienced this spring by losing out on some of the things during your final semester of your senior year.
“And so, it’s not nearly enough. The only thing I can say is I’m sorry for you. That you matter to me. How you feel matters to me.
“And I wish it would have gone a different way. I wish it would have gone a different way for your families, and for all of us.
“But, here we are, right?”
He acknowledged the maturity the Class of 2020 has shown — the perspectives of the students under his guidance.
“You know how people interpret and respond to such events can be deeply personal. So I can never pretend to know what each of you has carried on your heart and on your minds the past several months. But I’ve been amazed at the level of perspective and maturity that I’ve seen and heard from so many of you,” he said.
He encouraged the Class of 2020 to build their futures and their world on love and understanding.
And as diplomas were handed out, as families cheered and classmates shouted encouragement, the skies above the City of Clinton Football Field darkened, the wind picked up and few raindrops were felt.
Just a few. Because maybe, after all, the Class of 2020 has gone through enough.
They deserved their graduation.