By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
It was an epic, marathon day of commencement ceremonies for Oxford Community Schools. School administrators spent most of Tuesday, June 30 graduating seniors in shifts from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the sunny Wildcat Stadium.
Oxford High School honored 463 seniors over four sessions at 12 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Oxford Virtual Academy (OVA) honored 37 graduates at 10 a.m.
To allow for social distancing, each session was limited to no more than 130 graduates and two guests per graduate. Graduates sat in chairs spaced six feet apart on the football field in front of a stage on the southeast corner. Both home and visitors bleachers were open for guests.
“Our lasting memory of this graduating class is not going to be the pandemic,” Principal Steve Wolf told the graduates and their families. “It will be there, but you will be remembered for so many different reasons first. Mostly, it will be your school spirit, your passion and your involvement.
“Few other classes have screamed louder at our competitions, pep assemblies and our school events. Few other classes have given your level of devotion toward representing Oxford High School with such pride.”
The ceremonies combined live and pre-recorded elements screened on the scoreboard. Different graduates sang the National Anthem live at each session, while musical numbers by the school’s woodwind quartet and jazz band were pre-recorded.
Attending the 4 p.m. session was valedictorian Madison Cutler, who said in her speech that what she learned from high school is “how amazing it is that we are all so different.”
“Throughout the past year, and especially recently, I have learned to stop thinking about high school as something to get away from,” she said. “I started to see all the amazing things that gave people purpose, friendship and reason.”
Cutler argued that the entire class of 2020 has learned from “the beauty that is each person’s individual experience.”
“We have lived in a world of diverse values, faces and interests and built beautiful relationships out of it. We must continue to live this way. And for being strong enough to do this for the past four years I thank our staff and teachers, thank our families, and congratulate all of us,” she concluded.
Cutler, along with salutatorian Trevor Wallace, will attend the University of Michigan in the fall.
Senior speaker Tony Pasillas, who gave his speech live at 2p.m. ceremony, remembered “a graduate that should have been here today,” classmate LaFrance Marshall, who died at the end of sophomore year in May 2018.
“It was hard on all of us and changed some of us,” he said. “We all learned how quick life can change in a matter of seconds. But our class has come together to care for each other.”
The class of 2020’s senior year was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. Had they known that March 13 would be their last day of school, “we would have hugged our teachers, taken hundreds of snaps and cleaned our lockers one more time,” Pasillas said.
He noted the things his class missed out on, including their senior trips and the rest of the athletic season, but he also acknowledged what made them unique.
“We’re the first class to have Oxford stadium lights turned on in honor of us, the first to have our own graduation signs running along Oxford Road, and to pick up our own cap and gown in front of the whole staff.”
Superintendent Tim Throne had many positive wishes for the graduates. “Know that your family, friends and the community of Oxford will be cheering you no matter where your journey takes you,” he said. “We will remember the class of 2020 with fondness. Go Wildcats!”
Principal Wolf gave a final word of encouragement. “I know you may not feel like it, but you are, indeed, the chosen class for such a time as this. Never has a graduating class been called to step into the future with more purpose, vision, passion, energy and hope.”
Wolf knows they won’t let him down.
“If the early end of our school year has taught us anything, it is to live in the moment. Be thankful for what you have and be thankful for those who have been a positive influence on your life,” was Wolf’s parting lesson. “We love you, Class of 2020, and never forget: once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat!”
Representatives from student leadership led the graduates in the changing of the tassels ritual at the end of each ceremony. “Completing all educational requirements for the State of Michigan as well as Oxford Community Schools and honoring tradition as well as symbolizing our passage from youth and our accomplishments, please join me in changing your tassel from the right side to the left,” they said
For the many who could not attend the ceremonies in person, the event was filmed by Oxford Community Television and streamed live on the Oxford Community Schools Facebook page.
There were some technical difficulties with the feed, which “was not the OCTV equipment, nor our staff, but school feed that went down, temporarily,” according to OCTV. All of the events have been processed and each ceremony will be available on the Oxford Community Television website at occtv.org. Copies can be purchased, call (248) 628-9658.