Born post-9/11, graduating during a pandemic

Wednesday, May 20, 2020
With a toss of the mortarboards, it was over. Members of the Pierce City High School Class of 2020 achieved one of the greatest milestones of their academic careers, culminating in graduation ceremonies held Sunday evening at Don Keebaugh Stadium. Melonie Roberts/

Class of 2020 has memorable milestones

What will their next milestone bring?

Matthew Hall, valedictorian of the 51-member Pierce City High School Class of 2020, gave audience members and his peers some serious food for thought at Sunday’s graduation ceremonies, held at the Don Keebaugh Stadium in Pierce City.

The top 10 graduating seniors at Pierce City High School are pictured. From left, are: Matthew Hall, Bella Kamplain, Hannah Adams, Logan Lakin, Sengla Yang, Dora Badley, Dustin “Dominick” Smith, Jackson Kleiboeker, Donielle Brottlund and Cheyenne Carman. Melonie Roberts/

“We were born into uncertain and even scary times,” he said. “After 9/11, our parents would wonder what type of world we would grow up in and hope that it wasn’t a life of fear. Luckily, we were able to live out our childhoods in peace.

“Now, as we are graduating and preparing to go out into the world, we find ourselves facing a new threat. The coronavirus has forced us to live in ways and take certain precautions we weren’t used to. [We’re] not allowed to go to a restaurant and have a meal; [we] can’t have more than a certain number of people in a store at a time; [we’re] not allowed to hang out with any of our friends for fear of spreading the infection.”

Hall said at this point, he thinks there might be a pattern.

Kassidy Frost, a Pierce City High School Class of 2020 graduate, injected a bit of the islands into Sunday evening’s ceremonies, sporting several strings of colorful leis as she received her diploma from Matt Street, assistant principal. Melonie Roberts/

“Both of the biggest events in our lives were accompanied by bad times in the world,” he said. “So, I started thinking, what will be out next biggest event? Our 21st birthdays? Graduating college? Maybe we will be safe until we all retire. Either way, you can bet I’ll have plenty of toilet paper when the time comes.”

Hall went on to recount their chaotic freshman year; a forgettable sophomore year; the added responsibilities of junior year; and finally, reaching the pinnacle of the high school ladder, their senior year.

“Top dogs,” he said. “Kings and queens of high school. We have achieved so many amazing things. As everyone starts splitting up and going their separate ways, many of you might worry about losing your friends, or never seeing some of your favorite people again. To that, I say, think of them often, keep them in your prayers and send them a message every once in awhile. Make plans and meet up as often as possible. This doesn’t mean you can’t have new friends and make new memories.

Bella Kamplain, salutatorian for the Pierce City Class of 2020, urged her classmates to embrace change and use it as a tool to become greater, even when change is uncomfortable or scary. Melonie Roberts/

“Don’t let the past couple of months be a precursor to the next couple of years of your lives. Don’t sit at home and not do anything. Go to college. Get a degree. Take whatever it is you are good at and get yourself set up to succeed in this world. I want to go through the Internet in 10 or 20 years and see the success and the achievements of all you accomplish.

I want to thank all of you, friends, family and teachers, [from] pre-school to now, for that wonderful experience. Congratulations to all graduates and good luck on your journey into the world after high school.”

Bella Kamplain, salutatorian, echoed the sentiment.

Matthew Hall, valedictorian for the Pierce City Class of 2020, reminded students they were born in an uncertain world following the 9/11 attacks on America, and are now graduating amidst a worldwide pandemic. His thoughts selected the next big change in their lives and what world events might impact those milestones. Melonie Roberts/

“[We] are going through one of the biggest and most challenging changes of our lives right now,” she said. “We are finishing our high school education in the midst of a pandemic. No one knows what the future looks like, and we are the first to ever have experienced something like this. We are living through an historic event that is changing the world as we know it.”

Kamplain reminded graduating seniors they may not control the events taking place in their lives, but they could control their reactions to it.

“Not everything is worth your time or energy,” she said. “This change of mindset has really been a huge one for me. I’m glad. I can see the change in myself and how it has made me a better and stronger woman. Change is essential for growth. You cannot get better without changing what is holding you back.”

She urged graduates to embrace change and use it as a tool to become greater, not only for themselves, but for the world.

“We are the future, and we decide what it looks like,” she said. “Someone has to step up and make a difference in this world. We need farmers to feed the population. We need doctors to make the ill healthy again. We need scientists to find new solutions to the problems in this world. And we need teachers to inspire the generation after us.”

She urged her fellow classmates to find what made them happy and use it to make others happy as well.

“There is so much potential in this class,” Kamplain said. “I have some unbelievably smart and talented classmates, and I cannot wait to see what we will accomplish. I wish everyone good luck in wherever life takes you, even if it feels uncomfortable or scary at times. Congratulations, everyone.”

Although weather conditions were practically ideal, the outdoor format proved to be too bright for the annual senior slide show. This year’s ceremony focused only on the student speakers, without additional talks by a faculty member or Superintendent Kelli Alumbaugh. The ceremony concluded with graduates tossing their mortarboards on the track in front of a grandstand filled with family members and well-wishers.

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