It is said that true success comes after true struggle and strength grows from adversity. For the graduating Class of 2020, the past year was full of opportunities to grow. From disruptions in attending class to disappointments about long-anticipated events being put on hold, this year has been both challenging and rewarding for Canyons’ seniors.
As students from Alta High, Brighton, Corner Canyon, Diamond Ridge, Entrada, Hillcrest, Jordan High and Jordan Valley finished one of the most memorable years of their school experience, they emerged into a world that needs the resilience, resolve and courage earned by this generation’s ability to overcome hardship. But Canyons’ Class of 2020 won’t be known only for their delayed dreams and expectations — these seniors saw success even before the challenges caused by the novel coronavirus.
In this cohort of graduates, three students were selected as National Merit Scholars. One student was chosen as a Coca-Cola Scholar, Presidential and National Merit Scholar. Seniors performed tens-of-thousands of hours of service, and at least 74 seniors throughout the District received a perfect 4.0 GPA. Three of Canyons’ Class of 2020 received first-place awards as Sterling Scholars, and whopping 102 student athletes and scholars this year were named to the Utah High School Activities Association Academic All-State team.
To celebrate the accomplishments of Canyons’ seniors this extraordinary year, each school planned an individual graduation ceremony with caravans of cars, police escorts, balloons, banners and more. It was an event to remember. As the Class of 2020 moves on to their next stage in life, the words of the poet Emerson come to mind: “What lies behind you, and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside you.” Read on for a roundup of each of the District’s graduation events.
Alta High’s students, teachers, administrators, and staff may have had to stand six feet apart because of COVID-19 but they showed they were truly one at their graduation parade. The summer weather arrived just in time for celebrations of the Class of 2020, and the Hawks and their supporters reveled in the sunshine — and the promise of a bright future. Throughout the morning, cars, trucks, and motorcycles decorated with posters, streamers, and red and black balloons hummed along in a procession on the road in front of the school, which is undergoing a major renovation with proceeds from a voter-approved $283 million bond. Graduates stood up in sunroofs, sat in beds of trucks, and waved from windows to those who came to cheer the seniors. After winding through the parking lot in front of the football stadiums, the graduates hopped out of their vehicles, posed for photographs, bumped elbows with Principal Dr. Brian McGill and Board of Education members Chad Iverson and Steve Wrigley, and got back into their cars before driving away. Previously, members of the Class of 2020 were invited to come to campus in their caps and gowns to be recorded walking across the stage in the school’s new Performing Arts Center. The clips were edited into a “virtual graduation,” complete with musical numbers and speeches and broadcast during the graduation celebration. Principal Dr. Brian McGill reports that this year’s seniors earned some $8 million in scholarship offers — a six-year best for the Hawks — and nearly 90 percent plan to attend a two- or four-year college or university in the fall. Alta’s senior class also took some 1,900 Advanced Placement or Concurrent Enrollment courses, which equates to just under $3 million in earned college tuition and more than 5,000 college credits earned. Forty students in the unique-to-Alta “Step2theU” early-college program have collectively saved $750,000 in tuition by finishing two years of college while still in high school. “These past 10 weeks have shown us what it truly means to be essential,” Dr. McGill told the graduates, “and it is my hope as we move beyond this pandemic, we remember those who sacrifice and give of themselves to better other’s human development, learning, and health. Perhaps this pandemic will drive some of our current graduates of the Class of 2020 to new heights in health and medicine.” Senior Class President Anderson Da Silva encouraged the seniors to not focus on what they’ve missed as a result of COVID-19 — but what high school has given them, including lasting memories and friendships. “Many people say that today is the day we start our journey. But I disagree,” he said. “Graduation is one major step in the journey of our lives…Up until now, we have been a team, a family, walking as one. We have done it all, and we have done it together.” See pictures of Alta’s celebration on CSD’s Facebook page.
They arrived in colorfully-decorated convertibles, toting noise makers and confetti canons, and cheering them on was an equally loud and proud fanbase of faculty and staff. Brighton High’s 2020 graduation celebration — the first drive-through ceremony in the school’s history — felt like a burst of pent-up energy from months spent studying, videoconferencing and social distancing indoors. Nary a cloud was in the sky as the Bengal Class of 2020, escorted by the Cottonwood Heights Police, paraded past friends, neighbors, and teachers to an outdoor stage on the school’s play fields where they exited their vehicles to cross the commencement stage and pose for photos. Were it not for the graduates’ blue and orange face masks or the gloved administrators handing out diplomas, you might never have known that a pandemic was responsible for the unique nature of the occasion. “Today is all about the students, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it,” remarked a teacher. “The air is just electric and buzzing with excitement.” Life’s trials have a way of making its triumphs all the sweeter, as Brighton senior Jacob Simmons noted in his virtual, pre-recorded commencement speech. Though “we are in the midst of the darkest night many of us have ever experienced,” said the Coca-Cola, Presidential and National Merit Scholar, “when it’s morning again, I promise you it will be the most beautiful sunrise you have ever seen.” The spirit of Brighton’s Class of 2020 shines strong. Among the school’s 510 graduates are several National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalists, 390 students who earned Advanced or Honors Diplomas, and 32 who earned perfect 4.0 GPA’s. Several swimmers earned individual state titles, and several dozen student athletes earned Academic All-State status for excelling in sports while maintaining high academic marks. No matter where they venture next, here’s betting they will bring with them the hard-earned wisdom from weeks past and use it to fulfill the promise of a better tomorrow. Participating in the celebration was Superintendent Dr. Jim Briscoe and Canyons Board of Education President Nancy Tingey and Vice Presidents Amber Shill and Steve Wrigley. See pictures of Brighton’s graduation celebration on CSD’s Facebook page.
Corner Canyon High
As seniors from Corner Canyon High School approached the graduation dais, they each walked past an enormous banner hanging from the roof of the school with the words, “stand together” written on it in big letters. When the senior class chose their theme for this year, they did not foresee the challenges that would come, or how the novel coronavirus would impact their ability to physically stand together, but as senior Ty Easton said in his graduation speech, the concept of standing together has a deeper meaning. “The theme ‘Stand Together’ is more of a mindset,” Easton said in his pre-recorded speech. “This year, we stood together in so many different ways.” During the 2019-2020 school year, Corner Canyon’s Class of 2020 received scholarship offers totaling $8.7 million dollars, not including Regents or New Century Scholarships. In academic accomplishments, 28 of Corner Canyon’s 575 seniors are graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA, four seniors are graduating with an associate degree from Salt Lake Community College, and 467 seniors earned an advanced diploma or honors diploma. Five of the students will be entering the military, and collectively, the class completed more than 800 hours of community service. To celebrate and commemorate the Class of 2020 in a new and different way, the seniors gathered at nearby Willow Springs Elementary, where they received their name cards, and then drove in a parade toward the school. Neighbors and friends gathered along the path, cheering, shaking cowbells, and occasionally blasting air horns with shouts of congratulations for the seniors. Once they arrived at the school, the seniors exited their cars and walked past their teachers under a brilliant blue sky, past the banner with their graduation theme, past the official photographer, and onto a stage with Principal Derrell Jensen; Canyons Board of Education member Amanda Oaks, who represents the area; Draper Mayor Troy Walker and other members of Corner Canyon’s administration. The students received their diplomas, posed for a picture taken by their loved ones who drove in a vehicle alongside them, and then headed toward the open doors of the school to return their graduation robes. Teachers smiled and congratulated the students as they made their way through the event, and shouts of “You did it!” and “Way to go!” echoed through the air. Corner Canyon also live-streamed the event. The event brought new meaning to the students’ theme, as Easton said in his remarks. “We have learned there is strength in numbers and when we decide to … stand together, we can make our weaknesses become our strengths, and impossible tasks become possible,” he said. “Remember Chargers, when we stand together we are stronger.” See photos of the graduation event on CSD’s Facebook page.
Diamond Ridge High
The Diamond Ridge Class of 2020 wrapped up its senior year with a graduation celebration they won’t soon forget. “In a very big way, it means a lot to me personally that the Class of 2020 gets to celebrate their graduation on their own campus for the first time,” Diamond Ridge Principal Amy Boettger told the class of 45 graduates. The sound of cheers and honking car horns filled the air as Canyons Board of Education Vice President Steve Wrigley declared the class graduated. The sun broke through a veil of clouds just in time for the seniors to each take a turn, one by one, to drive by the stage, receive their diploma, and have their picture taken with Boettger. Families and friends decorated their cars with balloons and signs, and words of congratulations. Months ago, the class chose a quote by Winston Churchill as their graduation theme. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts,” Churchill said. With school closures caused by a need to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this class showed courage to continue, Boettger said. See photos of the graduation event on CSD’s Facebook page.
Each of Entrada High School’s 120 graduates overcame challenges to complete their high school education, not the least of which being a global pandemic, which led to the statewide closure of Utah’s schools. But while COVID-19 altered plans for the school’s early morning drive-through graduation ceremony, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the smiling graduates or their cheering teachers and families. Taking cues from the great American author Henry David Thoreau, who once advised, “never look back unless you’re going that way,” members of Entrada’s Class of 2020 have set their sites on the days ahead. Education opens doors, and by taking time to earn their high school diploma, students of CSD’s adult high school have equipped themselves for whatever challenges — and opportunities — come their way. In attendance at Saturday’s ceremony was Canyons Board of Education President Nancy Tingey and Entrada Principal Amy Boettger. Pictures of the event can be found on CSD’s Facebook page.
Under clear blue skies, all that could be seen on Hillcrest High’s football field was a sea of green and white. The near-perfect spring weather was a perfect backdrop for Hillcrest’s “graduation parade” around the track at the stadium. Some 500 cap-and-gown clad students arrived in vehicles decorated with balloons, posters and streamers to take their last lap around the school at which they have spent so much time in the last four years. To cheers from friends, family, faculty and staff, each student exited their vehicle at the 50-yard line to take a walk on a red carpet to receive their diplomas in the middle of the field. Graduates also posed for photos. Staying true to the theme of the class, this atypical graduation event was truly each students’ moment. In a pre-recorded address, student body President Kate Timmerman thanked her peers for giving her moments she will remember forever. Timmerman recalled the snow days, gas leaks, power outages due to the ongoing reconstruction of the school, athletic events, and academic and artistic successes — even during the two months of online learning as a result of the COVID-19 dismissal of classes. “All of these moments added up to years,” she said, “and now we are graduates.” If the accomplishments of the senior class are any indication, the Huskies are ready to take on the world. Principal Greg Leavitt reports that Hillcrest’s Class of 2020 earned a whopping $9 million in scholarship offers, eight members of the graduating class were National Merit Scholar finalists, and 31 earned the Seal of Biliteracy. Seniors took 1,116 Advanced Placement tests and earned 2,466 concurrent college credits. On the performing stage, the school’s Shakespeare team received an unprecedented perfect score and a first-place finish at the National High School Shakespeare Competition. The fall musical “42nd Street” received 12 nominations at the Utah High School Musical Theater Awards, and the Productions Company reformatted a planned production of “A Chorus Line” so it could be performed via a livestream. On the court, Husky hoops star Brox Ashby scored a career 1,000th point in the final year of the gymnasium before it was torn down to make way for a new one. Hillcrest students also dedicated themselves to giving back to the community. Not only did the school raise $33,000 this year for cancer research, but groups such as the National Honor Society, Latinos in Action, KEY Club, and International Baccalaureate, among others, provided 14,801 hours of service during the school year. See pictures of the graduation event on CSD’s Facebook page.
The Jordan High Beetdiggers turned out in droves to celebrate the Class of 2020 at the school’s “drive through” graduation. Cheers erupted every time a student — all wearing masks — stepped out of their cars to make their way to an elaborate stage in front of the school. Family and friends were able to applaud and snap photos from their vehicles as the students were handed their diplomas and traded elbow bumps with Principal Wendy Dau and Board of Education member Steve Wrigley. The event, which was dotted with cars decorated with posters and maroon and grey balloons, was planned to applaud Jordan High’s seniors, who were not able to have a traditional commencement rite this spring because of COVID-19-related mass-gathering restrictions. “Pandemics, earthquakes and killer hornets couldn’t stop us from getting our diplomas,” said Senior Class President Megan Fernandez in a pre-recorded address. Still, she said, those challenges should not define the students’ high school experiences. Instead, the ‘Diggers should decide to define the moment for themselves. “When you remember high school you should remember the great times you had. The pandemic has taught us not to take anything for granted. The ending of our school year may not have been ideal, but it’s taught us to be grateful for all we have.” If the achievements of Jordan’s Class of 2020 is any indication, they will change the world. Dau reports that 20 percent of the Jordan seniors who say they are attending college in the fall will be first-generation college attendees. Plus, the senior class, which boasts 14 students with a perfect 4.0 GPA and two National Merit Scholar finalists, has received $4.6 million in scholarship offers, an increase of $1.1 million over last year’s tally. Seniors Nathan Holly and Allison Hodson both received 10 scholarships alone, and five seniors have enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces. Thirteen percent of JHS seniors have earned the seal of biliteracy on their diplomas, meaning they reached high levels of proficiency in reading, writing and speaking in two or more languages. Dau also said that 23 students earned Academic All-State awards, as well as 56 Academic All-Region Honors. See pictures of the graduation on CSD’s Facebook page.
Jordan Valley School
Across the state, graduation events look vastly different than they have in the past. In this era of COVID-19, school districts have postponed traditional rites until mass-gathering restrictions are relaxed. To mark the students’ achievements, however, school officials have held more personal events that adhered to social-distancing guidelines. It has been no different for Jordan Valley, Canyons District’s school for students with severe disabilities. To celebrate their time at the school, certificates of completion were given to eight students who are 22 years old and will end their time at Jordan Valley. Twelve staff members joined school Principal Stacey Nofsinger in visiting the students’ homes to surprise them with a yard sign, a large pinwheel, and a gift bag that included a Class of 2020 T-shirt. Pictures can be found on CSD’s Facebook page.