PORT ORFORD — The Pacific High School Class of 2020 is a resilient group — all 12 of them. A tight knit class, they had to endure many challenges and changes, as all high schoolers did this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But this group took it in stride. Growing up in a small town often means ties to almost everyone in the community. That was abundantly clear Friday afternoon, when many in the town turned out to watch the seniors graduate in an unconventional, social-distanced ceremony for COVID-19 times. 

The seniors decorated their cars and trucks with balloons and streamers and with posters of themselves attached to the side. They were wearing their caps and gowns, with several also wearing ropes indicating National Honor Society or other honors bestowed on these involved and connected individuals. Then they each slowly drove with their families in tow down U.S. Highway 101 toward Driftwood Elementary School. There, after Pacific High School Principal Krisa Nieraeth led the Pledge of Allegiance for those gathered for the outdoor ceremony, the students hopped out of their vehicles one by one to receive their diplomas from Port Orford-Langlois Schools Superintendent Steve Perkins.

Photos were taken, cheers and congratulations were given and the students got back into their vehicles and drove around the block to the Driftwood field. 

The music of "Pomp and Circumstance" played loudly on speakers set up for the occasion, until the 12 students were finished, then contemporary music more suited to the mood was played as the students lined up in the field, socially distancing, and at the order of Nieraeth, tossed their caps into the air. 

These students have plans. College awaits for many of them, buoyed by the generous scholarships awarded at an earlier ceremony (see sidebar). Even earlier, the seniors were each gifted with a basket of goodies from Project Graduation, personally delivered to their homes. Each student was also featured on the PHS Facebook page and others were also featured on a local television broadcast.

The community has supported these students since they were young and continues to do so. 

Valedictorian Layne Converse will head to Oregon State University to study mechanical engineering. He also volunteers as a firefighter for the Bandon Fire Department, founded Pacific's Young Americans for Freedom chapter, and was a national competitor for Future Business Leaders of America.

Salutatorian Madison "Madi" Hall has been active in basketball, track and 4-H. She will attend Southern Oregon University to pursue a bachelor's degree in Emerging Media and Digital Arts. After graduating she hopes to continue her education and receive a master’s degree in education.

Both Converse and Hall are members of the National Honor Society. 

The class motto is "The best way to predict your future is to create it," attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

The Pacific High School graduating Class of 2020 includes: Layne Ash Converse (valedictorian), Benjamin Christopher Lee Garratt, Kaiya May Gourneau, Alley Marie Guerin, Madison "Madi" Lucille Hall (salutatorian), Esequiel "Zeke" Ryce Hernandez-McKenzie, Ezra Covey Johnson, McKenzie Renea Martin, Ryan Wayne Sibley Jr., Natalie Kay Vincent, Atticus Yang Wahl and David Samuel Wyatt.

The valedictorian's and salutatorian's speeches were recorded and posted on YouTube on the Pacific High School's Facebook page. The link is provided below.

Layne Converse's valedictorian speech:

"Hello 2020 graduates, 2CJ staff, families, and community members.

Today marks the beginning of a new era in our lives, where we finally become immersed in the real world. We’ve spent the past 13 years preparing ourselves for this launch, growing, learning, and maturing alongside one another.

Looking back, I begin to understand how much our lives are influenced by those around us. Our parents and families raise us, care for us, and help us to make good decisions. Friends are always by our side, looking out for us, and lightening the load of everyday life. Teachers and staff cultivate our ability to think, preparing us for the rigors of college and work. Above all, we have an exceptional community acting as an extended school family, giving us the encouragement, resources, and endless support we need to accomplish our goals. These people have greatly impacted our lives, equipping us with the mentality we need to succeed.

One of the defining characteristics of this class is our capability. Both in and out of school, we have demonstrated our ability to accomplish and achieve. I’ve seen my classmates work jobs year round, volunteer as mentors, counselors, librarians, and firefighters, travel for national competitions, star in local performances, and win state athletics titles. These accomplishments are a testament not only to our hard work, but to our desire to use our talents to give back to our community. This desire to serve, lead, and achieve will carry us into the future as we become productive citizens.

Following capability is adaptability. We started the year with a schoolwide remodel. Loud construction noises echoed throughout the school and the halls were constantly filled with the smell of burning tar roofing. Rainstorms passed through the unfinished roof, flooding classrooms and hallways. As second semester neared, construction concluded, and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel as excitement was building for graduation. Then we were hit yet again with challenge and change. A pandemic arrived, forcing us to transition to online learning and distance ourselves from our community. Despite endless changes to our learning environment, we learned to persevere, to greet challenge as a way to better ourselves and learn something new. As we continue to tackle the inevitable challenges of life, we will do so with the understanding that a brighter day awaits us on the other side.

Arthur Ashe, the great tennis player, once said, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” My fellow classmates, remember that learning happens while you are living your life, not at the end of it. Being capable and having the ability to adapt to any situation will allow us to succeed at any task. It is my greatest hope for the Class of 2020 that we will enjoy the journey of our lives, overcome any challenge, accomplish our goals, and always remember the people who have impacted our lives, propelling us forward in our journey.

Thank you again to our families, schools, and communities for your support of the Class of 2020. It has been an honor to live and learn alongside you all. And finally, to my fellow graduates: thank you for an amazing high school experience. For all your future endeavors, Good Luck and Godspeed."

Madison Hall's salutatorian speech:

"Traditionally, I would probably start off this speech by thanking everyone in attendance of our graduation, with that being said, we are not in traditional times. On behalf of the class of 2020, I would still like to thank our families, the Pacific High School staff, and our community for being a part of our journey together and helping us get to this milestone in our lives.

As the salutatorian it is my job to fill everyone in on some of the moments that represent who we are, and what makes us the school stopping, Cindy tripping, world breaking class that we are today.

I think that our four year journey together at this school can be most accurately described by a Charles Dickens quote that reads as follows, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” I wholeheartedly believe that this quote summarizes our unpredictable time together known as high school.

When I look back on my time at this school I remember freshman year when we all felt so small compared to the big, scary seniors. I remember junior year when we read the Crucible in english and it was my job to lay on the floor while the rest of my class acted around me. And then there was that time when a certain unnamed senior *cough cough* Natalie accidentally tripped our librarian in the hallway with her laptop charger. I guess my point is that my class has grown from the timid freshman that we once were, into the laptop charger wielding class we are today.

These memories that we have created with one another throughout our time together have shaped who we are now and play a part in who we will become in the future. Our class of twelve manages to have a little bit of everything. We have athletes, brainiacs, artists, writers, actors, and most importantly pirates. Together us seniors have endured late nights writing essays, hard repetitive practices, loud construction, flooded hallways, and now a worldwide pandemic to cap it all off.

Most of us have grown up together and experienced many great things with one another. Throughout high school we have shared the best of times and the worst of times, we have been foolish together and earned wisdom together. We are all more prepared for our next steps than we were before. So with all of that being said, I would like to wish the class of 2020 good luck and congratulations to us all."

Video of Layne Converse's valedictorian speech:


Video of Madison Hall" salutatorian speech:


Class of 2020 senior video:



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