Grayling High School conducts limited commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 on Sunday

Members of the Grayling High School Class of 2020 officially ended their unusual senior year on Sunday when they received their diplomas during a private and limited commencement ceremony at the school’s gymnasium.
“None of us expected this type of ending to our 13 years of schooling, but luckily, we’re pretty good at adapting to our situations,” said Madison Hehir, Class of 2020 valedictorian, during her graduation speech.
Normally, the senior class would have spent its spring in the classrooms, wrapping up its final courses, in the halls, in the gym, in the cafeteria, on the fields and the courts for spring sports, in the auditorium for awards ceremonies, one last trip through the hallway and into the parking lot on its final day, farewell to the school, to the teachers, to the office staff and administrators, to classmates, but 2020 has not been a “normal” year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Go back to the week of March 9-13, 2020. On Monday, spring sports teams started their official practice sessions for the 2020 campaign, and Grayling High School conducted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Viking Activity Center, an expansion of its physical education facilities. On Wednesday night, the school hosted two Michigan High School Athletic Association boys basketball playoff games. On Thursday, spring sports teams continued their practice sessions, but the MHSAA announced it was suspending its winter playoffs due to coronavirus concerns.
On Friday, Grayling High School suspended all extracurricular activities, and all students left the school after a planned half day. For the Class of 2020, it marked their last day at GHS.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the state’s schools to close for three weeks, March 16 through April 5, due to concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19. Later, the governor issued an executive order to end “in-person instruction” in Michigan schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
The order allowed individual school districts to come up with their own plans for finishing the year. The Crawford AuSable School District implemented Grayling Viking Distance Learning, and the district’s students, including the Class of 2020, finished their classes through online methods and other alternatives to live instruction.
Toward the end of the school year, Grayling High School replaced its Senior Honors Night and its Senior-Athlete Awards Night with video presentations posted on YouTube. As of Monday, June 1, the athletic awards video had 650 views and the Senior Honors Night video had 780 views, according to YouTube. 
School officials didn’t want to cancel graduation, and they didn’t want to do a virtual commencement ceremony, so they put together a plan. Graduates would arrive with their families in one vehicle and enter the gymnasium alone to receive their diplomas. Families would be provided with a picture from a professional photographer and local radio would provide coverage of the ceremony.
Things changed on May 18 when Governor Whitmer announced that retail businesses and restaurants would be allowed to open in Region 6, which includes Crawford County, effective May 22.
School officials adjusted their plan for commencement to allow parents and guardians to accompany the graduates for the presentation of diplomas. The school designated specific times for the graduates and their families to arrive at the school in an effort maintain a manageable flow for the event.
“Our main goal from the beginning was to give our seniors some type of celebration. We wanted to do as much as we could, but knew safety had to be number one,” said Grayling High School Principal Sarah Allen.
Allen said the commencement event went well on Sunday.
“Grayling High School’s Class of 2020 graduation went very well. It was amazing to see the graduates and I was more emotional than I thought I would be. The support from first responders and law enforcement agencies for our graduates was overwhelming and heartfelt. The broadcast of the graduation ceremony put together by Blarney Stone Broadcasting was fantastic,” Allen said. “I am very pleased with the graduation celebration and the closure we were able to give our graduates. This class holds a special place in my heart and I am excited to see the bright future they have in store for them.”
According to school officials, the Class of 2020 – one of the smaller GHS graduating classes in recent years with 86 members – earned more than $583,000 in scholarships from colleges and more than $47,000 more in local scholarships. The class had more than 6,000 community service hours, school officials said.
The Class of 2020 had 13 summa cum laude graduates: Alexandria Alma, Georgia Barber, Kyah Birdsall, Jocelyn Brown, Isabel Duba, Christina Gilkerson, Madison Hehir, Eli Jackson, Alainna Moffit, Desmond O’Reilly, Sarah Rakoczy, Katherine Snyder, and Olivia Van De Ven. They had grade point averages of at least 3.9 and they earned purple cords.
Five graduating GHS seniors earned magna cum laude honors (red cords) by finishing with GPAs of 3.7 to 3.899: CeCe Cvitkovich, Connor Eames, Lauren Helsel, Delaney Linderer, and Emma Mertes.
Five graduates earned cum laude status (green cords) by posting GPAs between 3.5 and 3.699: Haley Hayes, Misty Hinds, Justin Jamison, Liberty Jones, and Garrett Reilly.
The Class of 2020 had 20 honor roll students (gold cords, GPAs from 3.0 to 3.499): Natalie Anderson, Nick Bluemlein, Samantha Bolick, Gage Davis, Parker Dole, Pali Feri, Troy Fyan, Nick Green, Lillian Hibbard, Colton Laskowski, Vanessa Nielson, Zack Osga, Stormy Rathbun, Erik Rohde, Jenna Schwartz, Jordyn Schwartz, Sterling Shazri, Ben Snyder, Brandy Tackett, and Logan Trumble.
Eleven students earned orange cords and “virtuoso” status by completing five or more Advanced Placement classes: Georgia Barber, Kyah Birdsall, CeCe Cvitkovich, Isabel Duba, Christina Gilkerson, Madison Hehir, Lauren Helsel, Eli Jackson, Liberty Jones, Sarah Rakoczy, and Katherine Snider.
Blarney Stone Broadcasting produced a podcast for Sunday’s Class of 2020 commencement ceremony. It is available at
The podcast features a speech from Principal Sarah Allen, a speech from salutatorian Georgia Barber, the valedictorian speech from Hehir, a list of the individual graduates, and it ends with the playing of the class song, “Fireflies” by Owl City.
Allen, who was also one of the class advisors for this year’s group of seniors, said she considers the Class of 2020 as part of her family.
“As family we hurt when our children struggle, and what a struggle this year’s Class of 2020 has had,” Allen said during her graduation speech, which she recorded for the podcast. “From the spring break that never ended to cancelled prom, project graduation, and being unable to be together for the last couple of weeks of school. There is no energy like the energy of seniors getting ready to say goodbye to friends and getting ready to take on the future.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it, but one thing it did not change is family,” Allen said. “The love and support for not only these graduates and also our community has truly been heartwarming. It has shown us we can get through anything as long as we have each other, our family, our GHS family.”
“The most difficult goodbyes are the ones where you know you may never see those people again, but those goodbyes mean that you truly care about the people you are leaving. Class of 2020, this may be a painful goodbye, but please know that it has been an honor to grow alongside you and that I can’t wait to see what we all accomplish in the future,” Hehir said.
“We will move in separate directions and create new memories with new people, but we will always remember the good times as the Grayling High School Class of 2020,” Barber said during her speech for the graduation podcast. “Graduating classes before us have had their opportunities to start their futures, now it is our turn.”

Crawford County Avalanche

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Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
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