The past year’s pandemic imbued McLean High School seniors with traits that will last a lifetime, student speaker Eliza Bell said during the May 21 graduation ceremony.
“None of us could have anticipated a senior year quite like this,” she said. “In our minds, we were prepared for the usual senior prom, college applications, etc. But ‘normal’ just wasn’t meant to be.”
Students instead had to adapt, adjust their expectations and modify their schedules, Bell said.
“Life will not always play out exactly as we expect, but that’s OK,” she said. “After this senior year, the Class of 2021 is ready for whatever life throws at us.”
The ceremony, held at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, began with faculty members entering to John Williams’ “Imperial March” from the movie “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Principal Ellen Reilly bestowed Faculty Awards on graduating seniors Sanjna Kaul and Eliana Durkee. This fall, Kaul will attend the University of Richmond and Durkee will go to Duke University.
Keynote speaker DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, complimented the graduates for knowing not to take things too seriously. He cited as proof a prank in which the class placed 7,000 forks on the school’s football field.
“It’s OK to live in the moment,” he said. “It’s a wonderful journey, but don’t let anybody convince you that this journey has only to do with success or only has to do with failure.”
Bucking societal trends, class members have gone out of their way to ensure others had been seen, heard and included, Smith said. He encouraged graduates to forgive their parents for their mistakes, given their unconditional love for their children.
“Know that the world needs your kindness, your thoughtfulness, your love a lot more, sometimes, than it needs your industry,” he said.
Student speaker Bell said class members are leaving high school smarter, with luck a bit more mature and with many new experiences under their belts.
Besides gaining knowledge in traditional academic subjects such as history and science, senior gleaned unusual lessons from “virtual” learning, she said.
“We learned how to put together snappy business-on-the-top, party-on-the-bottom outfits for presentations when we actually had to turn on our cameras,” Bell said. “We might even put our good sweatpants on those days.”
She likened class members to the Mars rover “Perseverance,” which was built, launched and landed on the red planet during the pandemic.
Scientists and engineers worked around the clock, while socially distancing and avoiding contact with the outside world at critical points, Bell said.
“Every step required a new process, troubleshooting and creative thinking,” she said. “In a word, building the rover required perseverance.”
McLean High seniors did the same last year with virtual learning, making the best of an uncertain situation and never giving up, Bell said.
The pandemic also taught the seniors to value their personal relationships and care for one another, she said.
“Prior to COVID, we took for granted that fact that our families and friends would always be there,” said Bell, who encouraged classmates to look outside of themselves more, set aside their phones periodically and look for chances to connect with others.
“I challenge you to be more kind to others, to give people the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “We never know the struggles others face, what battles they are fighting or the hardships they have experienced . . . Say a kind word, be quick with a compliment, open the door and lend a helping hand. Serve others more often, smile more frequently and set an example of goodness for those who come after you.”
After a performance by the McLean Madrigals, the seniors filed up to the stage to accept their diplomas and cheers from the crowd.