Brandywine seniors graduate in adapted ceremony

NILES—The parking lot of Brandywine Middle/High School started to fill with cars of graduating Bobcats and their families just after 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Socializing with attending school staff and administration, and one another, the graduates and their families lined up in marching order to enter the school just before commencement began at 10 a.m.

As the top 10 seniors led the class in first, accompanied by up to three family members, they were given a mask and pump of hand sanitizer by administrators if they were not already wearing a mask.

“Pomp and Circumstance” played over the speaker systems in the school’s gymnasium. While the musical arrangement is usually reserved for the entrance of the graduating class to the staging area during commencements, this year at Brandywine Middle/High School the arrangement played for every family and graduating senior entering school’s gymnasium.

Leading out the graduating Bobcats at the top of his class, Connor Janowiak and his family walked to the front of the empty gym first. Janowiak went to the side of the stage and walked across as his name was read off by David Roeder, the senior class advisor. He paused in the center of the stage so his family could get a photo of him holding his diploma on the stage that all Bobcats hope to cross as they complete their senior year. Behind him, Steven Kendall Jr., second in their graduating class, was in the middle of the gym waiting to walk to the stage. He and his family chatted quietly with assistant principal Josh Hood. At the entrance of the back of the gym, Megan Schmidt waited with her family to proceed.

The class of 86 graduates had 84 in attendance on Saturday morning to walk across the stage and graduate properly from the school. The 2020 graduating class had not been back in the school since March 13, the last day of in-person instruction before COVID-19 mandates closed the classrooms to students.

As the graduates crossed the stage after receiving their diplomas, their families would cheer. The cheers echoed in the nearly empty gym, as social distancing was in full force indoors.

As the graduate exited the stage, they rejoined their families to walk down the school halls to the library where they would get their photo taken in their graduation regalia.

The ceremony finished with every graduate in attendance out on the practice football field, across the parking lot. There, class president and salutatorian Krishna Devdhara led the class in turning their tassels together, finishing out the graduating process.

“It’s been a tough situation since March for the senior class with school, the prom and all the different senior trips and sports,” Hood said. “In the big picture for Brandywine kids, the motto is we want you to walk across that stage. This was a different experience than the drive-thru ceremony other schools are doing. Hopefully students still got the emotions of walking in with their parents.”

Hood noted the more intimate setting for families, as they stayed together through the unique ceremony.

“This is a great class at Brandywine. We’re really proud of them. It’s been a lot of fun serving them,” Hood said. “They have a very bright future.”

The class speeches were not given in person during the ceremony, but were pre-recorded and included in the school’s live YouTube stream. The speeches will also be included in a graduation ceremony DVD the students will receive to keep, according to Hood.

The 2020 class of graduating Bobcats included four valedictorians and one salutatorian. Three valedictorians spoke in the video shown prior to the ceremony giving their speeches. The fourth, Brandon Kirkendall, did not attend the pre-recording of speeches or ceremony, citing COVID-19 precautions as a concern for the indoor graduation.

Top of his class and valedictorian, Janowiak spoke first.

“Good advice comes with experience, something I don’t yet have as I am crossing this bridge at the same time as you,” Janowiak said at the beginning of his speech. “Nevertheless, I do feel like I can reflect on what the future holds, rather than reminiscing on the past.”

He encouraged his fellow students to look towards the future, and towards finding each of their own potential.

“Let us leave this place with the intent of making our future more prosperous than our past,” Janowiak said.

Valedictorian Kendall gave his speech second on the recorded video.

“When I heard people say that this senior year goes by too quickly, I really didn’t expect it to be the shortest of my entire career,” Kendall said.

He opened his speech with a joke, and assured his educators the speech had been written in MLA format with a Times New Roman, 12-point font.

Ending his speech, Kendall encouraged his classmates, “everything falls into place eventually.”

Valedictorian Schmidt was the third to speak.

“Our class will forever be remembered as the one that missed out,” Schmidt said.

She spoke about her experiences in school, and the value of the lessons learned.

“Live in the present, this life is yours, and it is not infinite. The next chapter begins when you walk out those doors,” she said.

The fourth and final speaker, class president and salutatorian Devdhara, spoke about the chaos of 2020 and her experience as a first-generation student.

“If you’re watching this then I’d like to congratulate you too, because you’ve survived a pandemic and survived this messy year,” Devdhara said. “We’ve all had multiple opportunities to learn lessons throughout this quarantine, but one that I hope sticks is how privileged we are to have an education. I didn’t enjoy exams, waking up early or getting stressed out, but once it was all taken away, I was reminded of the true value of school.”

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