Ashley Buckingham, co-valedictorian
Ever since I started high school and learned that I had a chance to become one of the valedictorians of my class, I always wondered what I would say if I had the chance. I wanted it to be funny, intelligent, and not too long because the gym gets very hot. Even though this school year was nothing like anyone could have predicted, I am honored to be able to still have the chance to give thanks to everyone. I could never have done this without the support of everyone around me.
Of course, the first two people I need to thank are my parents. They are an amazing balance between encouraging me to do my best while also not making me feel any pressure to be 100% perfect. They’ve done so much for me. I’d especially like to thank my dad for taking me to Casey’s for breakfast every single day before school up until I got my license. The chocolate chip cookies definitely enhanced my ability to learn in school. Without my parents, I would be so lost in my life. Besides my parents, my entire family in general has always been extremely supportive. I feel blessed that God chose me to be surrounded by such a great family.
I know that this school year has also been hard on the teachers, not just the students. Online learning was something that no one could’ve ever predicted to have to happen. I think that all of my teachers did an amazing job making sure that myself, and every other student still got to receive a good education through all of this. My teachers definitely have made my years in school amazing, and I want to thank every one of them for all they have done.
Lastly, I want to thank and also congratulate the rest of the class of 2020. We have grown up together, and shared memories that will last a lifetime. I will never forget all of the times that we have spent working on the variety show and homecoming parade floats, doing community service hours, meeting up to study or work on projects for countless hours, and of course making the best chicken and dumplings that anyone will ever taste. I know that some of us will travel far away and may never be back to West Frankfort, and some will stay right here. Wherever we all go, we will always be a family. I am so proud of every one of you and what we have accomplished. I would not have wanted to go through school with any other group of people.
Sophia Simonis, co-valedictorian
Congratulations FCHS class of 2020! It’s finally here. We’ve been waiting for this day for the last 12 years.
While this isn’t quite what we were expecting, we are very lucky to be here today, at our high school graduation ceremony.
At the beginning of this school year, I remember seeing some of my classmates cry, as we were experiencing some things for the last time in our high school careers. Our last first day of school, our last variety show performance, our last football and basketball game. I thought it was silly to cry about it at the time, but now I fully empathize. Our class’s world was turned upside down overnight, due to a pandemic. Because of COVID-19, we were never able to goof off for the last few days of school after finishing all of our homework, or even attend our last day of high school. We won’t get the chance to think back to memories of our last prom or our senior trip. Through this unfavorable time, however, we were able to persevere and make it to graduation.
Great thanks to family, friends, and teachers for supporting and encouraging all of us throughout high school. Our class was fortunate to have been a part of Ms. DeMattei’s last year of teaching. We were also lucky to experience Mr. Dial’s and Ms. Sullivan’s last years of teaching, as well as their first years of being the principal and vice-principal. Ms. DeMattei and Ms. Sullivan were also a part of our phenomenal class sponsors, who did an amazing job of organizing our class events.
I would also like to thank my parents for pushing me to fulfill my potential; my close friends for knowing I couldn’t always hang out because of my constant procrastination; Madame Robinson for being my theatre mom and keeping me safe in Europe; Mr. Noto for being my favorite, noteworthy teacher; Mr. Maddox for being the coolest teacher, always with donuts; and Mrs. Little for being the funniest teacher, while still whipping me into shape for college. I love all of you.
As the FCHS class of 2020, we have a special story to the end of our high school journey. Nothing can stop us from triumphing, not even a pandemic. And that is why we can make this the beginning of a very successful future.
Congratulations Class of 2020!
Sarah Wollesen, co-valedictorian
My name is Sarah Wollesen. You’re likely expecting anyone giving a speech this year to turn coronavirus into an inspirational message of overcoming adversity, but that is not what I intend to do because I am confident that this will not define the rest of our lives; in time, I believe it will be nothing more than a cool story to tell our children and grandchildren.
First, a few stories. I have long promised my friends that as part of my speech I would tell a quick, irrelevant story from my good friend, Jonah Jovi. “I was at the park with Brock Johnson, but then I lost him, but then I found him.” Now that I have honored that commitment, I would like to share some advice from our biology-teacher-turned-assistant-principal-turned-principal, Jory Dial. “You can always come back,” he said, so you might as well explore life and “spread your wings.” He followed that with an imitation of a bird, flapping its wings.
Our class gets things done. Connor Eaton has won countless titles in wrestling. Nathan Birchler was the first student in FCHS history to direct a play, and having been a cast member in it, I can say he was a wonderful, understanding, and collaborative director. Austin Stevens and Emma Davis were both named Most Effective Legislators at Illinois Youth and Government’s General Session. I, with the help of my best friend, Amber Hanners, recruited and directed volunteers from FCHS to set up Candy Cane Lane’s display this year. I have named only a few examples, but I assure you, there are more. FCHS Class of 2020, keep getting things done.
You may be called naive for wanting to enact change. Do it anyway. The people who call you naive are just cynical. The world needs more optimism, if you ask me. Don’t confuse naivety with ignorance, though. Educating yourself is improving yourself, and by education I don’t just mean school. Learn anything and everything, from the layers of the atmosphere, to how to live healthily, to what it’s like to be someone besides you. Learn what love is, and learn how to love and accept the people you now hate, even if one of those people is yourself. And Class of 2020, be proud of what you learn, because from here on out, you are the ones who chose to learn it.
Have a healthy amount of skepticism. The most dangerous thing you can do is believe what “everyone else” believes without evaluating it for yourself with an open mind. Likewise, don’t assume that success means getting rich, having a spouse and two kids, and buying a really big house and a really cool car. None of those things are guaranteed to make you happy--especially the objects. I strongly encourage you to look beyond the script for our lives that is handed to us by society and to define success for yourself, because in the end, what really matters is that we have contributed positively to the world and that we are satisfied with how we lived our lives. I’m here to tell you it’s okay and even admirable to stay single, to not have kids, to live in a tent, or to become an artist, if that’s what will make you feel, in the end, that you have fulfilled your purpose. Class of 2020, stay true to yourselves.
And to the women in the Class of 2020, look at your valedictorians — Ashley Buckingham, Sophia Simonis, and me — and salutatorian, Jenna Herron, and know that you can do anything. Never let anyone tell you that you are any less, worse, weaker, dumber, or any other comparative negative adjective than a man, because if anything, you have likely had to fight harder for everything you have accomplished than he had.