AUGUSTA — The graduating class of Cony High School got together Sunday as a whole for the first time this year.

Gathering together at the Augusta Civic Center with friends and family was a high peak capping off what Valedictorian Tessa Jorgensen said was a year with a roller coaster’s worth of ups and downs.

“Yes the pandemic was a serious setback and when it comes to roller coasters, it was the plunge that no one expected,” Jorgensen told her classmates from the red and white-decorated stage. “But with every down, there is always an up. When thinking about this past year, it’s easy to focus on the things we never had. But we also got some pretty great, unexpected gifts along the way. For one, we got to sleep in twice a week. We were able to participate in some form of our sports or extracurriculars, even if it was different. We had a prom, something I know many of us thought we wouldn’t get. And most importantly, we are able to gather here today as a whole class, with family and friends, for the first time all year, to graduate.”

Coach and teacher B.L. Lippert, who as a child attended Augusta schools himself, urged graduates to not make excuses in their lives to get out of doing something challenging or unpleasant but that has to be done. He expressed worry that the last 15 months of their educations taking place during the pandemic could enable students, if they didn’t want to do something, to find an excuse, such as ‘My internet went out,’ ‘I didn’t know we had class on Wednesdays,’ or ‘My cat has the coronavirus,’ and not do it. But he said the class has proven over the last four years that when times are tough, they rise to the occasion.

“There will be days where you wake up and don’t want to go to class or go to work or be a good parent,” he said. “The Rolodex of excuses will be circling through your mind. Here’s a thought: get up, shovel some coffee down your throat and get moving. There are people in this world counting on you to be wherever it is you’re supposed to be, whenever you’re supposed to be there. Don’t sit on the sidelines and make excuses for why you can’t do something.”

Principal Kim Silsby, quoting from writer Katrina Kenison’s “The Gift of the Ordinary Day,” addressed graduates’ parents, suggesting they savior every minute of the lives they share with their kids, and congratulating them for raising them.

“All of you have cheered, cajoled, disciplined, supported, hugged, challenged, yelled at and loved these students for 18-ish years,” she said. “You did it! You led your children from infancy through elementary schools to middle school and now to graduation. All of you prioritized different lessons for your kids and here you are today, realizing that they have become the people that you dreamed they would become.”

Graduate Brooklyn Merrill sang “Corner of the Sky” live, while other music, including the concert band performing “Pomp and Circumstance,” and the Cony Madrigals singing “Seasons of Love,” were prerecorded and played at the ceremony.

All attendees were required to wear masks, and workers, including at least one Augusta Police officer, handed out disposable masks to those who didn’t bring their own masks.

When the time came for handing out diplomas, graduates bumped elbows with school administrators rather than shake hands as they were handed their diplomas. As they left the stage, graduates were allowed to remove their masks briefly for photographs to be taken as they left the stage with their diplomas.

Amanda Jorgensen, salutatorian and Tessa’s sister, said the day was a time for graduates to reflect on how much they’ve have grown and the life lessons they’ve learned, as well as to look forward to where they will go next, but also a time to remember the people who helped them along the way.

Graduate Elijah Bezanson urged his classmates to live their lives with kindness toward others.

“The question that must be asked, and answered by all of us, is what kind of world do we want to make in other people’s lives?” he said. “This is something that everyone must answer for themselves, and is oftentimes found in the crucible we will all face. While it is easy to look at adversity and pain as the worst parts of our lives, it is oftentimes necessary to uncover the most fruitful and pure parts. Embrace your challenges, support others through theirs, and let us all become the people we are destined to be and create a world in which we will all thrive.”

In the absence of a band, Silsby asked the crowd to provide a drum roll, by stomping their feet, as graduates turned their tassels from one side of their mortarboards to the other. Most graduates then pitched their caps into the air before leaving the auditorium.

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