2020 class graduates on sun-kissed evening

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Public Schools board members and administrators mirrored the national division of sensibilities about whether or not to wear masks to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Some wore them; some didn't. From left are education board clerk Addie Roanhorse, board member Patricia Counts, board member Mike Tolson, board president Tom Boone, assistant superintendent Beverly Moore and board vice president Scott Laird. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

They waited an extra six weeks for the privilege, but Pawhuska High School’s 2020 seniors had the pleasure of throwing their caps into the evening breeze last Friday at Ormond Beach Memorial Stadium. Nothing — not even COVID-19 — can take that away from them now.

While some area public school systems chose to finish on time by holding vehicular graduation parades instead of traditional graduation ceremonies, Pawhuska waited for six weeks for an opportunity to possibly hold its graduation outside at the stadium. There were no guarantees — about either the COVID-19 situation or the weather. When June 26 arrived, the early morning was overcast but the sky cleared and by 7:30 p.m. it was sunny and breezy, with a temperature in the upper 80s and a few wispy clouds.

State health department reports showed the number of COVID-19 cases surging in Oklahoma and in Osage County, but not in Pawhuska. As of June 26, the number of confirmed cases in the city was 13, and 13 persons were shown as having recovered from the illness.

Pawhuska Public Schools entered last week with plans to request that immediate family members of the 2020 graduates sit in family groups at Ormond Beach. There was concern about crowding, but the school district made a mid-week adjustment that changed the complexion of the ceremony. The district rented hundreds of folding chairs and placed them in rows on the football field, behind the area set aside for graduate seating. The chairs were carefully placed so that there were six feet of distance between any one chair and any other.

The result was that anyone who wanted to attend the ceremony could do so. There were temperature checks at the entrances, but limited seating was not an issue.

Superintendent David Cash noted that 6 of the 43 members of the graduating class had grade-point averages of 4.0 or higher; and 22 (half the class) had averages of 3.5 or higher. Five class members had announced the intention to enlist in the U.S. armed services. Cash described them as both good students and good people.

Valedictorian Shelby Bute recalled the words of encouragement, some of them blunt, that she recalled from the journey through grade school. Bute recalled elementary school teacher Jon Marie Wilson having told a fifth-grade science class, “Life’s not always fair. You’ve just got to suck it up sometimes.” At the other end of the odyssey, Bute recalled Cash (the superintendent was her basketball coach in her senior year) repeatedly instructing her and other players, “We must keep our composure.”

“No one is ready to take on a pandemic their senior year,” Bute told her classmates, assuring them that they already know how to confront adversity in pursuit of their goals. The COVID-19 pandemic made the seniors “embrace growth,” she said.

Cash followed Bute’s remarks with encouragement to the graduates to find the work of their lives in areas about which they are passionate. He remarked that he changed majors in college 12 times and finally found his passion when he helped coach a little league sports team.