Cassopolis graduates Class of 2020 outdoors

CASSOPOLIS — The Class of 2020 at Cassopolis High School may not have had all the pomp and circumstances of a typical graduation, but during three sessions at William F. Scott Field, the Rangers closed the chapter on their high school careers.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced schools to close to in-person learning in the spring, the Class of 2020 has had to endure many changes over the final couple of months of their senior year. Among them were switching to e-learning and the loss of high school sports.

But in the end, the 65 members of the graduating class came together a few at a time to share one final high school memory and to pick up their diplomas.

On what turned out to be a bright and sunny day, the first graduation session started at 10 a.m. on the football field. The final two sessions were hosted at 11 a.m. and noon respectively.

Salutatorian Owen Gardner, a transfer from Niles his junior year, spoke about how welcoming the Cassopolis community had been to him.

“Thank you all for treating me like family since the first day I stepped foot in this school,” he said. “Thank you for taking me in as one of your own. I know that I have only been here two years now, but I truly feel like I have grown up here.”

Gardner also encouraged his classmates to be the best that they can be at anything they do. Gardner said he was an awful basketball player, but he always tried to be better than everyone else every time he played the game.

“The same can be applied to every area of your life,” he said. “Where you are going straight to a job after graduating, heading on to trade school or college, or playing a sport. Be the best one there. Be the best employee. Be the best student. Be the best athlete. Be the best person. Just be the best. And if you are not the best yet, keep working until you are, because the pain of discipline is a lot less than the pain of regret.”

Valedictorian Kaitlyn Owen was the next to step up to the microphone. She reminisced about her time at Cassopolis. But first, she thanked all the teachers, staff and administrators for putting together the graduation ceremonies and the parents, who have helped create lasting memories her senior year despite the coronavirus outbreak.

“I would like to say thank the senior parents for the massive amounts of support they have shown us the past few months by working tirelessly to make sure our senior year as special despite everything that was going on,” she said.

Owen then recalled some of the things that the senior class has been able to accomplish in its final years at Cassopolis High School.

“As a class, we have achieved some remarkable things,” she said. “And while we may have had some bumps in the road, with experience and patience, we have always been able to resolve a majority of the issues we encountered.”

Like Gardner, Owen transferred to Cassopolis. She started first grade in Cassopolis after coming from Edwardsburg.

“Like almost any new student, I was nervous,” she said. “However, when it was time to go to school, I was met with welcoming faces who became great friends of mine.”

Owen recalled helping build the winning float during her sophomore year during her four years of high school. She also recalled some of the highlights of the senior class.

“During high school, our classmates have achieved some pretty incredible accomplishments,” she said. “Particularly our junior year. We had so many triumphs. Our football team made it to semistate. Our FFA Parli-Pro team took first at state and went on to place ninth at nationals this past fall and the Robotics team made it to worlds. For each of these occasions our school rallied together to send everyone off to wish them the best in their game or competition.”

Owen then introduced the alumni speaker, Rev. Mike Anderson, of the class of 1986, who is the pastor at First Baptist Church of Vandalia. He is the father of five, all Cassopolis High School graduates, including current senior Matthew Anderson.

Anderson’s theme for the speech was “When Life Knocks You Down. Get Back Up.” Being a pastor, he used his theme to involve the graduates and those in attendance, although at times, it seemed like the graduates were not as willing to participate.

Anderson also recalled being carted off the football field where he stood on the stage after breaking his leg his senior season in a game. With that, he lost scholarship offers. But he did not let that deter him.

He also coached Rocket Football for 17 years in Cassopolis, so he felt it was only fitting that he be speaking to the graduating class on the field.

“Being out here is where I enjoy being,” he said. “This is the perfect place to have a graduation. Maybe it is not by coincidence, but by the grace of God that we are here.”

Anderson spoke of the many challenges that the Class of 2020 has faced, and will face moving forward. He called them “relentless Rangers.”

“The Class of 2020, you are definitely resilient, relentless Rangers,” Anderson said. “Most of you were born around 9-11. Now you are graduating during a pandemic. You are already able to withstand, but now is the time to recover. Quickly from this condition. You are already resilient. You have already gone through many things this year. Social injustice, racial division, protests, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, political division and economic downturn. Can we all just come together?”

Anderson challenged the graduates to be a force for the future.

“You must have an attitude or posture, not to go with the flow, you must take a stand,” he said. “You must not be silent and go with the flow. Stand for what is right, even if you are the only one standing.”

Anderson then offered up a quote to the Class of 2020.

“We as a country need to stop fighting with each other every day,” he said. “We need to do more as a nation to come together to finally become the United States.”

That quote did not come from Martin Luther King Jr., but rather, it came from Matthew Anderson.

“You can already have an impact in your world now,” Mike Anderson said. “Don’t say tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come. Do what you are going to do today.”

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