Elizabeth O’Neill performs the Star-Spangled Banner Friday during the Buckhannon-Upshur High School graduation Friday. More than 200 Buckhannon-Upshur High School students participate in the 143rd Annual Commencement at the Freal “Red” Crites Memorial Stadium Friday.

Perseverance amid a pandemic: 200+ students celebrate graduation at B-UHS’s 134th commencement

BUCKHANNON – Despite many obstacles created by a worldwide pandemic, more than 200 students gathered Friday evening at the Freal “Red” Crites Memorial Stadium to celebrate obtaining a major life accomplishment – earning their high school diplomas – with their family, friends, teachers, school administrators, school staff and Upshur County Board of Education members.

Friday’s graduation marked the 134th Commencement for Buckhannon-Upshur High School and included the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Band, under the direction of Garrett Friend, the Buckhannon-Upshur High School ‘Sound Waves,’ under the direction of Jeremiah Smallridge and the “Star-Spangled Banner,” beautifully performed by soloist Elizabeth O’Neill.

Early predictions for the weather looked wet and gloomy, but Friday’s weather turned out to be quite warm and sunny as B-UHS Principal Jonathan Pollock welcomed those in attendance. Pollock said it was a pleasure to celebrate and showcase an amazing group of young adults.

“What a year it has been,” Pollock said. “We all know how incredibly difficult it has been for everybody involved for a thousand reasons and more. But it has been less challenging here for one reason and one reason alone – all of you.”

Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Jonathan Pollock welcomes parents, family, staff, personnel, administrators, friends, alumni, graduates and Upshur County Board of Education members to the B-UHS graduation Friday at the Freal “Red” Crites Memorial Stadium. More than 200 B-UHS students participated in the commencement.

Pollock said the Upshur County community has been most welcoming, compassionate and caring and said they have been cohesive on the one topic that really matters – the kids.

“From all that is good in me, thank you for all you have done to contribute to the success of our students this year,” Pollock said. “Here’s to you!”

Pollock said the day was one to honor the tremendous young people who had persevered and achieved.

“Frankly, they have blinded us with what they were to accomplish here in the worst of times,” he said. “All of them – those who are here and those who should be.”

Two of the top B-UHS graduates of 2021 included John ‘Jake’ Bohman and Kayla Wagner.

Jake maintained straight As, completing honors and advanced placement coursework while involved in Youth Leadership Association, Math Field Day and Student Council. He currently serves as the Student Body President, is a member of Boy Scout Troop 100 and recently earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He was selected for the Frank Feola Leadership Award for outstanding skills in leadership and is a student representative for the Upshur County Board of Education.

He is a member of the National Honor Society and is a National Merit Scholar Finalist. In August, he will be attending Swarthmore College where he plans to major in either history, economics or political science and hopes to become a lawyer; however, he is not entirely committed at this time.

Kayla maintained a 4.0 GPA while cheerleading, volunteering and having a job. She said her family has pushed her to excel, and their constant support has helped her achieve her goals. Kayla plans to attend West Virginia University as a first-generation college student and she plans to major in biology and become an anesthesiologist.

Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus thanked those in the band and choir as well as staff and family members of the 2021 B-UHS graduates.

“Thank you for trusting us with your students,” Stankus said. “Thank you for letting us be a part of your family and all that it means to us tonight as we celebrate their next journey into their trip to success.”

“We wish you well, Class of 2021,” she added. “I cannot wait to see all the great things that you will accomplish as you have already shown us how resilient you really are. Thank you, and congratulations.”

Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus welcomes those gathered at the B-UHS graduation Friday. Lewis-Stankus also assisted in presenting diplomas to the more than 200 graduates.

During Friday’s commencement exercises, three senior class members, who were selected by their peers, spoke and included Kennedy Samargo, Samuel Squires and Iris Tenney.

Kennedy said the graduates of 2021 are a textbook definition of persistence.

“As we have faced and overcome the adversity placed before us over the past year, we represent persistence,” Kennedy said. “From walking with our friends mask-less one day to being totally isolated the next with prom cancellations on the horizon.”

Kennedy said when they returned to school, they could only walk certain directions.

“The entire new world was like a bad summer camp that your parents forced you to go to,” Kennedy said. “As we begin preparing to write the next chapter, it is easy to be unsure of the first word to write the sentence with.”

Kennedy said she hopes her classmates will set their goals high, pursue them hard and do it for themselves.

“Stand and stand strong. If you want it, go for it,” Kennedy said. “Go to college, start a family or go straight into the workforce – you will struggle, you will hurt and you will fail. But it is those struggles that take you to the peak when you are not willing to give up on yourself and your dreams. When you hit those points, keep your head held high, wipe the tears and get back to your goals. This, too, will pass.”

More than 200 Buckhannon-Upshur High School students participate in the 143rd Annual Commencement at the Freal “Red” Crites Memorial Stadium Friday.

Samuel said the 2021 B-UHS graduation is not the one he, nor his fellow graduates, would have envisioned.

“But nonetheless, I am grateful to be having a ceremony at all,” Samuel said. “After a long four years, we have made it to this day – we made it through the elbow bump Fridays, two teacher strikes and a worldwide pandemic.”

He said he feels like this graduation is unique.

“Not only in the fact that there is a pandemic, but that this is a reunion for many of us,” he said. “For many, including myself, we have not seen everyone together since our junior year. While staying home and doing schoolwork from my bed is nice, I did miss the interactions with my classmates.”

Samuel said over the last four years, all the graduates have grown into themselves.

Samuel Squires speaks with his more than 200 classmates during Friday’s Buckhannon-Upshur High School graduation ceremony.

“Look around,” Samuel said. “Each one of us here is individually beautiful. High school is just a small portion of our lives – it is the beginning of who we become. As you celebrate today and how far you have come, take a moment to look to the future and all you can become. Whether you plan to enlist in the military, start your career or enroll in a college, all our futures are bright because once a Buccaneer, always a Buccaneer.”

Iris told her classmates that from here on, they are no longer on a predetermined path.

“We will begin to part our separate ways,” Iris said. “Some of us will begin our careers, some will start families, some of us will join the Armed Forces and some will continue trying to find ourselves seeking a higher education.”

Iris said she hopes those entering the work force will continue learning and challenging themselves to continue growing to become the absolute best in their line of work.

“For those unsure of their plans, always remember you have time,” Iris said. “Now is the time to find yourselves and learn what you really want in life.”

Iris said she wanted those enlisting to know they are making a difference in the world.

“All of us are extremely grateful for your bravery,” she said. “Finally, for those of you seeking higher education with a goal in mind, remember to be flexible. Sometimes life puts a bump in the road that directs you in an unexpected path. I want you all to please recognize there is no wrong choice to make in this moment.”

“Be proud of yourself and this accomplishment,” Iris added. “You did it and it is only upwards from here. My hope for all of this is when we come to the end of this journey called life, we are happy with who we have become. We did not let fear stop us from pursuing our goals and in the midst of doing this, we worked hard to contribute to the world and make it a better place.”

Iris Tenney delivers a speech during the Buckhannnon-Upshur High School graduation Friday. Iris was selected as a speaker by her fellow classmates.

Closing remarks for the 2021 B-UHS Graduation were given by Senior Class President Margaret “Maggie” Nolte. Maggie said she was happy to be there in person, especially after the crazy year they endured together.

“Our senior year was not the way you or I anticipated it would be,” she said, “but we all successfully made it to graduation.”

Buckhannon-Upshur High School Senior Class President Margaret Nolte delivers the closing remarks to her classmates during the 134th Annual Commencement.

Maggie said no matter where they go, they will always have fun memories to cherish.

“The sky is the limit,” she said. “I wish the best for all of you. I know the future holds big things for all of us.”

Maggie then directed the class of 2021 to turn their cap tassels from right to left, which drew applause and cheers.

Friday’s graduation included more than 200 graduates. Diplomas were presented to students by Stankus, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison, BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples, BOE Vice President Katie Loudin, BOE member Kristi Wilkerson and BOE member Patrick Long.

An empty chair at the 2021 Graduation was in memory of classmate Jenna Jo Davis, daughter of Debbie Davis and the late Jim Davis. Jenna passed away on Oct. 13, 2019.

Graduates celebrate earning their high school diplomas Friday at the Freal “Red” Crites Memorial Stadium.

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