POWHATAN – Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Catholic School celebrated the 21 young men and women that make up the Class of 2020 with a virtual graduation and separate in-person presentation of diplomas.
The school held a special virtual graduation on Saturday, June 6 to honor the BSH seniors for their achievement in reaching this point despite many challenges, including finishing their senior year during a pandemic.
The ceremony was a mix of pre-recorded messages, slideshows, and special videos to commemorate the students’ years at the school.
Head of school Paula Ledbetter said she always knew the Class of 2020 was unlike any other, as demonstrated further by their senior year and graduation – the school’s first virtual commencement ceremony. Still, she promised it would be an event unlike any other.
“Despite not being able to gather today in person, we are still blessed as family and friends to be able to gather virtually to celebrate the accomplishments of each of our 21 seniors,” she said. “Class of 2020, we know you have long anticipated this day, and you should be very proud for all you have accomplished. Your hard work, perseverance, and faith in yourself have brought you to this point. You’ve made it!”
For several of the seniors, BSH has been their home away from home since they were 3 years old, representing 15 years of their lives, Ledbetter said. Others joined the school in their elementary, middle, and high school years.
“We have students who have been here for 15 years, and one student who was here for 34 days after joining in January. Another special fact about your class is that seven of you have attended Catholic school since at least the first grade,” she said. “From an outside perspective, a person would not be able to tell who had been here for the longest time or the shortest time, and that is one of the most special things about your class. You embrace one another and you are accepting and inclusive of one another.”
Valedictorian James Hawkins and salutatorian Raymond Avery both gave graduation speeches. Hawkins acknowledged the virtual graduation wasn’t the ideal way to celebrate the end of their high school years, but it was certainly unforgettable.
Hawkins said he has attended BSH his entire school career along with five other graduates. He offered thanks to the parents, faculty, and staff who helped support the students on their educational journeys. He also praised his fellow students for the bonds they created “that cannot be replicated.”
“BSH is a place where every single one of you graduates today can call your home, no matter if you attended since the beginning or just joined during your senior year. Each and every one of you has made BSH a place where everyone feels welcome and for that I thank you,” he said.
Moving forward into the future, Hawkins challenged his fellow seniors to pursue the best versions of themselves and not limit themselves to only the “road traveled by most and the road less traveled.”
“I ask you all to take neither the road with heavy traffic nor the road with few people. Take the road that does not exist yet. Make your own path. Do not compare yourself to others as they may be in a different chapter of their life than you. It would be unfair to compare your Chapter 1 to their Chapter 11,” he said. “On this path in life, the only person that you should compare yourself to is your previous self. You should strive to become better than you were yesterday.”
Avery also extended his thanks to his teachers, classmates, and parents for the impact they had on his and the other students’ time at BSH, as well as thanking God for the many blessings he put in their lives. As the students all go their separate ways to colleges and universities across the state and nation, he challenged them to remember the experiences they have had and the memories they made together.
“We are about to enter a chapter of our lives that is foreign to us all. We will have to say goodbye to our friends and family and navigate this time largely on our own. But no matter where we go or what we do, we will always be Knights,” Avery said.
The graduation ceremony also included pre-recorded videos that highlighted scholarship winners, special memories from throughout their time at the private school, and advice from the graduating seniors.
A week later, on June 13, the school held individual graduation ceremonies for all 21 students, each accompanied by a few of their family members. During ceremonies that lasted about 20 minutes, Ledbetter and Meredith Perry, assistant principal, each gave a speech to encourage and challenge the students as they moved on from Blessed Sacrament.
Also during each ceremony, a BSH teacher read a letter written to and about the student. The letters are usually read at a senior dinner, but since that wasn’t held this year, the school chose to have them read at the students’ individual graduation ceremonies to make each one unique.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.