Class of 2020 sent off with fireworks at outdoor graduation

photo courtesy of Hubert Worley

After uncertainty about senior graduation due to COVID-19, the Class of 2020 finally gathered at Trustmark Park on Thursday, July 23 to put on the cap and gown, receive diplomas, and officially end their student careers at Jackson Prep. In this scaled-down graduation, members of the Class of 2020 were permitted to invite nine guests, and invitees made seat reservations beforehand to ensure social distancing protocols could be followed.

The ceremony began at 7:30 p.m., just in time for the rain to stop and a cool breeze to comfort the audience. Masked graduates walked out on the baseball field and sat in chairs about six feet apart. Outgoing Student Body President Alex Stradinger led the crowd in prayer and in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by speeches from Salutatorian Leigh Hardin and Valedictorian Olivia Clapp, who both thanked their teachers and applauded their peers for being a class who adapts and who overcomes.

Head of School Mr. Lawrence Coco then spoke of the successes during the 2019-2020 school year, including winning chess tournaments, soccer championships, and having incredible basketball tournament runs, but then also mentioned what had been taken away by the pandemic, including the tennis season, the track season, and the simple privilege of walking down the hallways. 

Mr. Coco praised the seniors for taking the challenge of remote learning and making it truly work. He then challenged the Class of 2020 to be like our first Secretary of Treasury and the subject of the hit musical play Hamilton, to not waste their shot and to leave a story behind worth telling.

Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Mr. George May, Jr., a Prep class of 1975 graduate, a three-time Prep parent, and an oral surgeon then took to the podium to discuss continuing to do the next right thing, following the example of someone you admire, and to persevere until you have achieved your goals. President of the Jackson Prep Board of Trustees Dr. John Davis then spoke about maintaining freedom of speech, arguing that while speech can sometimes incite violence, speech does not warrant violence and should not be restricted with violence, even if you disagree with it or consider it “hate speech.”

Outgoing Senior Class President Preston Oden then prayed before students received their diplomas and briefly took off their masks for individual pictures. Finally, as one last surprise for the Class of 2020, fireworks blasted over the field as caps were thrown into the air. 

While this graduation was far from normal, the students were happy for the experience. Reminiscing over the year cut short, graduate Katie Buckley said, “I thought it went really well. It was great to see all my friends and classmates one last time. It made me realize how much they all really mean to me and how much I really am going to miss them.”