The end of these seniors’ time at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics was different than that of any prior class due to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the 303 from all across North Carolina were able to return to campus July 24 and 25 to graduate.
“We can choose to look back on our senior year and be saddened by the events that took place, or we can look back on our senior year and cherish the times we did have together — I will most certainly choose the latter,” Student Senate President Isaiah Hamilton told his classmates in a commencement address. “These tough times taught us that it’s okay to ask for help. Needless to say, we grew emotionally. I now realize that each and every day we were growing.”
Class of 2020 residential seniors had to return to their home communities and shift to remote instruction on short notice in mid-March. Also because of the pandemic, the traditional commencement ceremony originally planned for May was postponed until the summer and converted to a safer format of awarding diplomas by appointment.
Students and their families, wearing face masks, arrived during their scheduled 1-hour slots over the course of two days to take a photographic tour of campus at landmarks including the Broad Street sculpture, Watts Hall steps, the new gazebo built on campus during Mini-Term of their senior year, and Reynolds Breezeway. The tour led them to the Educational Technology Complex auditorium, where each processed to Pomp and Circumstance, played live for each student by music instructors Scott Laird and Dave Stuntz, heard their name called, and crossed the stage to receive their diploma from a masked Chancellor Todd Roberts.
“We know that graduating from high school is an important milestone and accomplishment in your lives, and we wanted to make sure that in spite of the challenging times that we’re facing, we could do our very best to appropriately honor you for all your hard work over so many years,” Roberts said in his commencement address. “And while I know this is not the commencement ceremony that you or we imagined a few months ago, it’s one that is truly special, which is truly fitting for the special people that you all are.”
Senior Dalia Segal-Miller delivered the student address and reflected on her NCSSM experience in light of the unusual spring: “It wasn’t until we spent our final moments of high school back home that we realized just how much we relied on our hall[mates] … In just two years, we gained a family. NCSSM, much like any community or experience, is what you make it. You won’t grow unless you challenge yourself. You won’t find your passion unless you try new activities. Thank you for giving me the best two years of my life.”
Each year the graduating class of NCSSM provides a concentrated snapshot of the intellect found throughout North Carolina’s schools. Some two-thirds of the state’s counties and every region in the state were represented by the graduating class, with the student body hailing from 161 rural, urban, and suburban high schools. This year’s class received scholarship offers totaling $11.49 million.
Student Government President Grace Dai said in her graduation address that she sees herself and her classmates giving back to North Carolina and the world: “We have been shaped by each other because we all shared and took part in this experience unlike any other,” she said. “For I know that we will make a significant impact on the world around us. Thank you all for the impact you’ve all made on me, on your peers, and on this entire community.”
Chancellor Roberts expressed similar expectations: “What brings me so much hope in a time of historic challenges and uncertainty is all of you,” he said. “Your great intellect in knowing how to apply your knowledge, your compassion, your understanding that you are a part of a community larger than yourselves and your desire to make things better than they are. Your resilience and action, that’s what it takes to address the challenges we face today, but more importantly, to lay the foundation for how we can avoid or be better prepared for the challenges we most certainly will face in the future. We’re counting on you.”
It was the 39th graduating class of the Durham-based residential program.