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Weatherly hosts drive-in ceremony in school parking lot

As Rachael Caccese stepped to the podium and peered out into the parking lot, she saw her classmates, the people she grew up with and grew close to.

It wasn’t the speech she imagined or the setting she envisioned, but as Weatherly’s valedictorian stood atop a stage in the middle school parking lot on Friday night, she used the platform to bring her peers together one final time.

“Prior to a few months ago, who would’ve thought that our graduation ceremony would be under these circumstances with people sitting in their cars,” Caccese said.

“We are experiencing a pandemic like no other class has for the past 102 years. We have a choice, we can sit back and wait or we can be active participants in solving the problem.

“In a few months, some of us will go off to college, the workforce, or the military. We may not have those daily interactions with our family, friends, and classmates. We may still be experiencing social distancing and other precautions. We need to make the most of every single day, so we rise above and overcome these challenges and strive toward a brighter future.”

Weatherly’s 132nd annual commencement ceremony honored a group of 54 seniors, who have made the most of the circumstances throughout the process.

“When I started my high school career, one thing I have always dreamed of was to be reading this speech in front of you all today,” said class president Alianna Hernandez.

“Three years ago I never would have thought that I would be talking about how we didn’t get to finish our last year or how March 13 would be our last day inside of Weatherly High School, but these are things we have to live with.

Hernandez said to think about what the class has gained. “This experience is something that only our class of 2020 will be called upon to endure.”

Due to the restrictions for Carbon County imposed by the Pennsylvania government to combat the COVID-19 virus, graduates attended the event in their family’s vehicle. They were able to walk up to the stage to receive their diplomas.

“Graduates, you are the best and brightest and we have gathered here tonight to celebrate the promise you hold in our community, your family and yourself,” said principal Anthony DeSpirito. In addition to their accomplishments, the class of 1970 was also recognized.

Before beginning her speech, Hernandez presented a plaque to Superintendent Teresa Young as a token of appreciation from the class of 2020.

“We could not have done it without you standing together with us,” Hernandez said. “The Weatherly Area graduating class of 2020 would like to thank our administrators, faculty and staff for their tremendous dedication and compassion extended to our class during the historical pandemic of 2020.”

The unknown has been one of the few constants in recent months. Class salutatorian Michayla McPeak urged her classmates to be the change that shapes the future.

“I thought that in order for me to be successful, I had to follow a specific path, but there are different versions of success for everyone,” McPeak said. “I think that it’s important to discover what success is to you, and to chase that like there is no tomorrow.

“Life is going to change all the time, but we just have to keep striving for what we want in our lives. I know that all of us are capable of so much, and we’re going to thrive in this next chapter of our lives, no matter what paths each of us decide to walk on. We are the future of this world, and we are capable of changing it into something better than it already is.”

This is a group that has overcome the unfamiliar before, something that will prepare them for whatever lies ahead.

“Our class of 2020 is transitioning from the past four years of high school to the future of unlimited opportunities,” Caccese said.

“Coming from a small school, we have that personal connection with each other and our teachers. We are not only taught family values, but what it means to give back to the community and to support one another. Here we are supporting one another tonight.

“I believe my fellow graduates would agree, that each of us will never forget the memories from our experiences, whether that be sports games, dances, clubs, or activities outside of school. So, Class of 2020, go out, spread your wings, be the best at whatever profession you choose, and always remember that nothing is impossible! After all, we are Wrecker strong!”

Twin sister Lexi, left and Lauren Berger move their tassels during Weatherly's graduation service in the parking lot of the middle school Friday evening. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS