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Oregon graduates reflect on school year during "drive-in" ceremony

An evening commencement, complete with videotaped messages, live streaming, and a “drive-in feel”, capped the end of the COVID-19 school year at Oregon High School on June 19.

Ninety three seniors and their families waited in or near their parked cars in the Blackhawk Center lot as they prepared to walk across an outdoor stage and pick up their diplomas.

“I know this isn’t the way you wanted it to go, but I don’t know, I think its kind of cool,” said Heidi Deininger, OHS principal, who opened the 8:30 p.m. ceremony. “It’s momentous, its new, we’re doing the best we can, right?

“You finally got to this day. I know its be a long road, especially the past 65 days. We’ve all…,” Deininger said pausing, “we’ve all faced uncertainty, disappointment, worry and even fear. But you made it to this day to celebrate your achievements and your school career.

“Sorry it’s been hard on us too,” she continued, her voice breaking. “Each and everyone of you has accomplished something big or small while at OHS. Above all, I watched all of you persevere the last three months during some uncertain times.”

Karlie Hughes was one of three seniors who reflected on the school year during the hour-long event. She urged her classmates to face their challenges “head on”.

“The world you once knew has undergone some drastic changes,” she said via video. “Heck we are just now having our graduation ceremony—social distancing style. I’ve found focusing on the negatives in life will only hold you back. So, please focus on the good and keep pushing forward because you can do this. To the Class of 2020 remember serving and helping others gives us perspective and keeps us from getting caught up in ourselves.”

Lauren Montavon said the Class of 2020 made many “great memories over the years” despite the pandemic taking away important senior milestones “like prom, the spring sports season and the last three months of school”.

Elizabeth Villarreal said the Class of 2020’s senior year was not one anyone expected.

“Instead of a year filled with joy and fun we got one filled with isolation and a cycle of injustice and violence,” she said. “Regardless of that we still managed to make it here today. Today is our day. We can finally make our mark and maybe an impact on our world.”

She said that while many may be unsure of what to do after high school, there were still many choices.

“The pandemic doesn’t make them any easier, but whatever choice you make I want you all to know that you shouldn’t be stressed because you are ready. Our class is resilient. You just have to be confident about your life and yourself and own it. And if you are still unsure, then the fact that you survived about 3 months of glitchy Zoom classes is more than enough proof.

“This is no longer story of Class of 2020, but our own individual stories. From here on out its our time to shine and make our own decisions,” she continued. “This also means stepping up for what we each believe in and making our voices heard. There’s a lot of negativity in our world, with the pandemic, the riots, and the horrific death of George Floyd, but now we’re at the point where we can make a difference. It there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us its not to live with regrets because as we now understand, our lives can change in a matter of seconds.”