Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) 2020 valedictorian Rebecca Archibald reflected on challenging circumstances as she addressed her classmates in a pretaped ceremony broadcast June 24.

Due to the pandemic, she spoke from the school standing alone on stage, with no immediate audience to respond. But Archibald said she has admired her class’s ability to keep a positive mindset when faced with uncertainty through the entirety of the year.

“I am so proud and inspired to see the strength, the decision to choose joy and the amazing adaptability put into action by my fellow students,” she said.

The commencement ceremony recognized this year’s graduates with the usual flourishes, including music, speeches, awards and video montages. Graduates were also able to attend school in person June 25 on a scheduled basis to walk across the stage with their diploma and get photos.

Vice-principal David Waito said staff wanted to preserve as many traditional elements of the ceremony as possible to honour the right of passage.

“We recognize that this year’s ceremony is not what any of us envisioned it would be,” he said. “But this doesn’t change how proud we are of your achievement, or how proud you should be, or how significant this graduation can be to you and your lives.”

The ceremony also featured remote video tributes from alumni. NHL forward Matt Duchene offered congratulations to the class.

“What you guys have been able to accomplish this year is incredible,” Duchene said. “Be the leaders the world needs and make this world a better place. I know you guys can do it.”

Principal Chris Boulay reflected on the difficult circumstances and said it would be unfair to ask students to find the silver linings but he also spoke to how youth can change the world.

“This graduation class exemplifies strength, resolve, determination, empathy and voice. It is abundantly clear for all of us, to navigate out of these times of darkness, sadness, and worry, we will need to lean on our youth. For youth to write the wrongs, to put an end to social injustices, to bring us hope,” Boulay said.

Archibald said the class will do well by choosing to find joy in life.

“There will be struggles and changes in plans. But because of your joy and resilience that you witnessed and practiced at Hal High, I’m confident you will go on to be joyful leaders wherever you are.”

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