What a difference a year can make.
Last year's graduation ceremony was held at Somerset High School's Clark Field in accordance with tradition. This year the SHS Class of 2020 was honored with a virtual ceremony in accordance with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
But Somerset High's 127 new graduates aren't worried about keeping with tradition; they're more about making their own way. SHS Principal Jeff Wesley paid tribute to the Class of 2020 by noting they were born on the heels of 9/11 and were no strangers to adversity, or resilience.
"You've grown up through the War on Terror," Principal Wesley said, "and now you graduate high school during the first pandemic in 100 years. Yet through all of life's challenges, whether in your personal life or in the world around you, you've accomplished so many things.…You have so much to be proud of."
Friday's graduation festivities began with a parade through downtown Somerset before the pre-recorded virtual ceremony video premiered on the Somerset Independent Schools' YouTube channel at 7 p.m.
Class speakers included Katelyn Smith (invocation), Devan Neely (class president), Jackson Prather, Lyndsey Kelley, Jase Bruner, and Chase Cimala.
"The way our senior year ended was so unexpected and heartbreaking," Kelley said after the premiere Friday night. "Ever since I have been at Somerset High School, I have always looked forward to the moment where I would get to walk across the state with some of my closest friends in front of our teachers, friends, and family.
"I didn't know how corona would affect our graduation, but I am so thankful for the support from our staff, friends, and family. They have made us feel so loved throughout these past few months. I believe the rest of my graduating class can agree with that," she continued. "This is definitely one of the most memorable graduations considering we walked across the state with only our immediate families in the audience. Despite the fact that this is not how we wanted our time together to end, we are so bless to have an amazing staff that made this so special for us."
Dr. Michael Hail, chairman of the Somerset Independent Board of Education, said that the Class of 2020 has been awarded a total of $2,712,086 in academic, athletic and other scholarships. Those graduates going on to college will be attending 19 schools in Kentucky as well three other states.
The school board's vice-chair Scott Gulock noted that this year's class has 11 student athletes who will go on to compete at the college level.
The Class of 2020's many academic and athletic achievements include:
• SHS Football has won two district championships, two regionals and this year, won the Class 2A State Championship for the first time in school history.
• Five Governor's Scholars.
• One Rogers Scholar.
• 17 earned the Work Ethics Seal.
• 16 inducted into the Society of Character.
• 34 student-athletes earned first team All State academic honors with 12 honorable mentions.
• 37 earned college credit through the SHS Carnegie Academy.
• More than 70 earned college credit through the school's dual credit partnerships with Somerset Community College, Campbellsville University, Morehead State University and Eastern Kentucky University.
• 22 are career and college ready.
• 67 are transition ready.
• Prather and Austin Barnett were the first-ever SHS team to qualify for the KHSAA Fishing State Championship, making a Top 11 finish.
• National Honor Society seniors earned 26 hours of community service over two years.
• DECA Club won 11 regional awards and nine state awards.
• 12 band students named to All District and five in the Morehead Honors Band.
• Archery team qualified for state and three individuals qualified for state.
• Fellowship of Christian Athletes' seniors served more than 6,000 Thanksgiving meals over four years.
• Girls Soccer won three district titles with six players named to All District.
• Boys Soccer won four district titles, one region title and made to All-A state semi-finals.
• Boys Basketball were two-time All A Regional Champions and won a district championship.
• Girls Basketball won one district championship with one player named to All District. The team qualified for state twice.
• Dance Team won four 12th Region championships, two state championships, state runnerup for 2020 and one national title.
• Boys Tennis won a 12 Region championship.
• Girls Track were regional runnerups, with a state runnerup last year.
• Baseball team won three district championships, three All A regional championships, and 12th Region championship.
• Boys Golf team has won four straight All A regional championships with one state qualifer.
"A virtual graduation and congratulatory parade were not the way we wanted to honor our 2020 graduates," Somerset Independent Schools Superintendent Kyle Lively said. "However, both alternative graduation events exceeded expectations. Mr. Wesley, Mrs. Baker, and the entire SHS staff did a great job organizing and carrying out a lengthy list of graduation events. We are also appreciative of Mayor Keck, the Somerset Police Department, Mike Tarter and Somerset 106 for playing a major role in the graduation parade.
"Although the graduation ceremonies have taken on different look, it has been great to see students and parents exhibiting the same heartfelt emotions — smiles, tears, laughter and exhilaration — that you find at a traditional graduation," Lively continued. "Seeing this group of students and their families enjoying the moments after all they have endured over the last few months is fantastic. Their abilities to persevere and find the positive in difficult times is a testament to their character.
"This is a special class and they leave huge footprints for future senior classes to fill. On behalf of Somerset Schools, thank you Class of 2020 and best of luck in your future endeavors!"