Unusual year brings unusual graduation

Wittenberg-Birnamwood celebrates Class of 2020
The graduating senior class at Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School celebrated its commencement on July 24 with carefully-distanced placement of students and families—and a surprise burst of color at the end of the ceremony. 
Carol Ryczek | NEW MediaLauren Bahr adjusts her cap in the breeze after accepting her diploma at the Wittenberg-Birnamwood graduation ceremony on July 24.
Carol Ryczek | NEW MediaFamilies were placed in groups of six people, six feet apart on the football field of Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School for a COVID-careful graduation ceremony.

Carol Ryczek | NEW MediaSumma cum laude graduate Karsyn Delforge is escorted off the field after the graduation ceremony. The students received flowers and met family and friends at the track surrounding the football field, then marched out. Delforge delivered one of the commencement speeches at the ceremony on July 24.

Carol Ryczek | NEW MediaA Wittenberg-Birnamwood graduate celebrates as he poses for a family picture after receiving his diploma at an outdoor ceremony on July 24.

Carol Ryczek | NEW MediaFamilies sat six feet apart on the grass of the Wittenberg-Birnamwood stadium on July 24 as they watched their 2020 seniors graduate.

Carol Ryczek | NEW MediaOne of the six invited guests of the Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School graduating class of 2020 snaps a photo as the graduate is handed a diploma.

Carol Ryczek | New Media
By: 
Miriam Nelson
News Editor

To say it’s been an unusual year for education is a bit of an understatement. In an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus, schools closed down in mid-March.

The senior class at Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School had to adjust to school online — with no sports, prom, theater, band or the many other activities associated with school life.

“Our students lost out on one of the most important times of their lives during the spring and into the summer. Time spent with friends!” said WBHS Principal Bill Hass. “I believe that would have been the hardest part for most of our students.”

Graduation, usually held at the end of May, was postponed until July 24 when 58 of the 67 members of the Class of 2020 participated in the commencement program.

Traditionally, the event is held in the high school gym, and the chairs on the court and the bleachers are packed with loved ones, happy to watch this rite of passage. In order to comply with the recommendations for social distancing, this year’s event was held outside. The students were spread out on the bleachers. Each student was allowed six family members to watch from the football field in groups, but at a distance from other families.

Four years ago, the district moved away from the valedictorian and salutatorian designations to honor summa cum laude students. This, according to Superintendent Garrett Rogowski, recognizes great achievement and effort by all students who take rigorous coursework in every discipline.

The 2020 graduates receiving this honor are: Logan Balliett, son of Mike and Kristy Balliett; Karsyn Delforge, daughter of Andrew and Stacey Delforge; Megan Gauderman, daughter of Tony and Melissa Gauderman; and Onnica Long, daughter of Michelle Long and the late Mike Long.

Delforge and Gauderman spoke at the ceremony.

“It’s been a crazy, year and none of us could have seen this coming and it’s been very disappointing not to be able to participate in things we look forward to in our senior year,” said Melissa Gauderman. “It felt so weird in May to not be finish with a graduation ceremony.”

Gauderman, who will be attending Northwestern Technical College this fall in the nursing program added that she thought it was very special to finally be able to experience the graduation ceremony with her classmates.

“This year ended up being the complete opposite of what I had always imagined in my mind,” said Delforge. “As seniors, we missed out on most of what makes our final year of high school so amazing.”

Delforge acknowledged that this year has been hard for her and many of her classmates, but she felt everyone was learning and growing from this experience.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from this difficult time is that life never goes to plan, so it’s really important to enjoy as much of the present as possible,” she said. “You never know when everything you planned to happen one way will go the complete opposite.”

Rogowski was grateful that the Class of 2020 lead by example and demonstrated the kind of integrity and class they showed throughout their school experience at WBHS.

“I know they will be successful in their post-secondary pursuits and will represent our district proudly as they continue their journeys in life,” said Rogowski.

The graduation ceremony was broadcast via livestream as an option for families and friends to watch.

mnelson@newmedia-wi.com