After more than two months of separation, Buffalo High School’s seniors gathered together as students one final time at Mike Moon Field Monday to celebrate their graduation and the end of their high school careers.
When they left school on March 12 and headed home for a long weekend, the 2020 graduates didn’t know that it would be the last time they would attend class in the building where they learned and grew together for just shy of four years. As the weeks of social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic wore on, the seniors were forced to watch as one end-of-the-year tradition after another passed them by.
Yet, on a sunny graduation morning, salutatorian Holly Qualm asked her classmates to think of the last year – and the months they missed together – as a doughnut. When eating a sugary fried pastry, she said, “We don’t mourn the missing doughnut hole, do we? No way – we devour those doughnuts.”
“We should not mourn the things we missed out on,” she said, encouraging her fellow graduates – seated neatly 6 feet apart – to instead, look to the future.
Only immediate family members were allowed entrance to the ceremony, which was streamed live on the school district’s Facebook page for those who could not be there in person. As bunches of white, black and gold balloons swayed in the wind above the robed graduates on the bleachers, attending families were isolated by household within the boundaries of white squares neatly painted on the playing field.
Qualm continued by thanking all the people who supported the graduates in their journey from childhood scraped knees to modge-podged expert project boards.
“My desire is for us to rise to our full potential,” she concluded, “The potential our loved ones have been preparing us for from day one and the potential our teachers have been educating us towards from that first day of preschool, with faith that can move mountains, perseverance, joy and hope.”
Valedictorian Mason Moon began his speech with a few wry jokes about pranks and the graduating seniors’ early reputation as “the worst class in BHS history.”
Yet his tone turned serious as he spoke about the heartbreak of the return bus ride home from Casper after concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus forced the cancellation of the state championship basketball tournament.
“We returned to our classes that afternoon, not knowing that it would be our last day of high school,” Moon said. “As much as we had always longed for that last day to come, this was not how we wished for it to end. We would never go to another day of high school with our oldest friends.”
Moon told his fellow graduates to appreciate the simple things as they go forward.
“I encourage you to appreciate what you have before it turns into what you had,” he said.
The final advice given before the class of 2020 collected their diplomas and tossed a throng of black and white mortarboard hats toward the blue sky came from Mike Hanson, a former BHS English teacher now working at New West High School.
Hanson encouraged the graduates to go forward and “live great lives” and told them to never be afraid to ask questions during a speech that also honored the parents, teachers and staff.
“You are what you do, not what you say, not what you believe, not how you vote, but what you spend your time on,” he said. “And perhaps the most counterintuitive truth of the universe is that the more you give to others, the more you’ll get.”
Hanson told the graduates that he met his wife of two decades during his own freshman year of college, reminding them to “look up from your phones now and then – the person you share the next 20 years of your lives with might appear at any moment.”
He spoke about the importance of finding meaning and purpose in life, and finished by telling a story about the power each individual has to reflect light into the dark places of the world.
“This is my why,” Hanson said. “Maybe it’s not the only meaning of life, but it is the meaning of my life.
“I believe each of you, each of us, is the fragment of a mirror. It is the purpose of each of us to go into the world and reflect light, love, understanding, knowledge and hope wherever it is needed – and it’s needed now as much as ever.”