Seniors of the 2020 graduating class of Kilgore High School crossed a stage at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium Friday night as they successfully completed a chapter in their lives, their graduation ceremony.

The celebration, taking place later than normal due to COVID-19 restrictions, was just like the hometown graduations of years past, with a few key differences.

Graduates, faculty, administrators and family practiced social distancing and hand sanitizer was supplied to seniors about to receive their diplomas. For these seniors, the last few months of their final year of high school were unlike anything they expected.

“The speech I am giving tonight is quite different than the speech I would have given had our senior year gone as planned,” said valedictorian Mackenna Watkins, addressing her fellow graduates.

“Our final spring break, our senior prom, the infamous senior skip day and, knowing our class, maybe even a senior prank. It would all come to an end after receiving our diplomas, tossing our caps in the air and finally going our separate ways. Little did we know that, we, the class of 2020, were about to make history.”

Watkins went on to describe struggles she’d already faced throughout high school when her older sister, Sam Watkins, died unexpectedly. She said she devoted herself to academics, only for the entire class to be disrupted by the sudden onset of COVID-19.

“Without warning, we were forced into a new way of living,” Watkins said. “We had to learn to slow down, something none of us would have done otherwise. We suddenly had more time to spend with family, we caught up on sleep and we learned to be patient.”

Watkins also shared the regrets of the class from some of the moments lost to them in the shutdown. Sports and academic competitions were cancelled. Traditional end-of-year celebrations couldn’t be held. Students lost the chance to say their last goodbyes to the institution they had known for many years.

“Our hearts will forever hurt from the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘should-have-beens,” Watkins said.

Despite the class of 2020’s difficulties, their futures remain bright.

“We were given the power to lead by example and, quite frankly, I think we have done an amazing job,” Watkins told her fellow graduates.

The graduation ceremony was also broadcast live on the Kilgore ISD website for those who wanted to tune in from home.

From the ground, it was easy to forget there was anything out of the ordinary about the evening’s ceremony. One final humorous reminder came when the students at last received their diplomas and were officially certified as graduates of Kilgore High.

With a cheer, students tossed red streamers (and rolls of toilet paper) into the sky, looking back at their unusual senior year with a laugh.

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