Wright City R-II caps school year with late graduation

Graduates Dillon Seabaugh, left, and Conner McFadden pose with Caesar, the stuffed gorilla who became an unofficial mascot for the Wright City Class of 2020. Derrick Forsythe photos.
Derrick Forsythe
Staff Writer

As the sweltering July sun set over the athletic complex last Friday, members of the Wright City Class of 2020 crossed a modified stage to receive their diplomas.

Finally, the long awaited day had come for the 112 graduating seniors.

Delayed nearly two months by COVID-19, the commencement ceremony was a symbol of closure for a class that will depart for its next phase of life in the coming weeks.

“Everybody was excited and happy to be there and have that experience,” said High School Principal Matt Brooks. “The fact it had been pushed back made it a little more special to folks.”

While students had been apart since school was closed nearly four months prior, friendships and traditions were not lost in time. Many seniors were happy to see their class’s unofficial mascot, “Caesar,” cross the stage with his caretaker, Conner McFadden.

“One day we brought him up out of my basement, and I was like, ‘this would be a great mascot to bring to all the sporting events,’” said McFadden. “We decorated him up and brought him to every game, and he became an iconic character. He’s been everywhere with the senior class. We even took him on our float trip and gave him a life jacket.”

Caesar crossed the stage adorned in a variety of blue and gold jerseys, showing his school spirit and evoking light-hearted laughter during a time that has been challenging for many.

Senior Tommy Trollope carried his signature digital camera during the processional, snapping memories along the way, as he was named Male Student of the Year.

He and Caesar were among the topics mentioned by seven seniors who spoke on behalf of the Class of 2020. There was banter peppered among reminiscing of difficulties faced over the past months, since students were abruptly torn from friends when school closed in mid-March.

Kaitlyn Johnson, who was named Female Student of the Year and earned the Wildcat Award, was among the speakers. She pointed out the many impacts of COVID-19.

“I never thought my family would have to watch me graduate from behind a chain-link fence,” quipped Johnson, referencing social distancing restrictions at the event. Seniors were limited to just six tickets apiece for graduation, with chairs placed in blocks six feet apart on the football field. This left several dozen spectators to watch from outside of the facilities.

Johnson addressed the class, along with Autumn Nixon, Katherine Mazella, Brennan Logan, Sara Deane, Erik Pritchard and Class President Summer Boswell.

“There was a common theme that in life there will be challenges and resilience is key,” said Brooks, of the speeches presented. “I would be hard pressed to find a collective class better able to handle this circumstance, given their positive attitudes.”

The keynote speaker was teacher Dan Friedel, selected by the student body after his first year in the district.

The ceremony began with the introduction of incoming Superintendent Dr. Chris Berger, who handed over the podium to the recently departed Dr. David Buck for comment.

“I’m thankful for some semblance of normalcy by being here tonight,” said Buck, who reflected on the many changes that have taken place since the Class of 2020 entered kindergarten.

“You are the last class to have never gone to East Elementary,” said Buck. “When you started school, the track you are seated on was gravel and the building behind you didn’t have air conditioning. Yet, here you are, having accomplished so much. You excelled and made us all proud.”

Sgt. Jeremy Burd from the United States Marine Corps was also on hand to present special awards to a class that accumulated over $400,000 in scholarships.

Earning the Academic Award was Danielle Schubert, while the Band Award went to Kiana Luna.

The Female Athlete of the Year was Genevieve Rodriguez, and the Male Athlete of the Year was Brandon Culton.

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