RICHMOND — Dozens of vehicles filled the parking lot at Richmond High School to watch the Class of 2020 graduate on a windy Sunday afternoon.

The ceremony marking the commencement of 36 seniors was originally planned for Saturday, but rain pushed the event back a day.

Valediction Abigail Johnson said during her graduation address she dreamed for years of her “senior spring,” which included prom and other activities. Those plans were obviously altered by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused school buildings to close and school events to be canceled.

Seniors hold onto their caps and sashes Sunday afternoon during the Richmond High School graduation ceremony. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“Gone was our perfect senior spring, instead replaced with distance learning, online meetings and social distancing,” Johnson said. “Not only have we spent weeks grieving over our lost traditions and memories, we have also been grieving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide that have succumbed to this pandemic.”

Later, Johnson said the lost traditions — including a normal prom and a normal graduation — presented more learning opportunities by making her and other graduates experience discomfort and forcing them to reassess their priorities.

“We are coming out of this pandemic stronger, with a perspective on this world that no past graduating class has achieved,” she said. “It is because we were uncomfortable that we have had this opportunity to grow and prepare for our next step.”

Johnson ended her address by issuing a “call to action.” She urged her classmates to be a “voice for the voiceless” and to hold themselves and others accountable.

A woman wipes away tears Sunday afternoon while watching the procession of graduating seniors march at Richmond High School. Andy Malloy/Kennebec Journal

“While for us, there was nothing wrong with our traditions, with our proms and concerts and graduations, there will be times in life where the tradition is wrong,” she said. “There will be times where, embedded in ‘what has always been,’ is hate and prejudice and oppression.”

“Speak out against the system, however uncomfortable, and ensure your space on the right side of history,” Johnson said. “Our work is just beginning.”

Salutorian Spencer Soule used his address to urge his classmates to learn from their mistakes, saying the next stage of their lives might be scary, but also “exhilarating.”

“As we all leap forward into this new experience, we will all make plenty of new mistakes that we couldn’t have foreseen,” Soule said. “And so, to everyone here graduating today, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s normal. Just try to learn from most of them.”

After the ceremony, the new graduates planned to stand along Main Street and accept congratulations from those in passing vehicles.

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