If high school is a journey, then the senior class at Ocoee High School has already experienced a lifetime of ups and downs these past four years.
Ask anyone in this 2020 class, and they’ll tell you just as much.
Among those graduating seniors is Ty’ya Benyard, who served as the SGA president. For her, this year’s class — which has dealt with adversity and a global pandemic — is one that will never be forgotten.
“As a class, we have gone through uncertainty about who we are and our future — we have lost close friends, and have endured so much these past two months,” Benyard said. “All of our hard work, dedication and sleepless nights have finally led us to this exact moment. Our class slogan states, ‘Some have a story, we have a legacy.’ This unique experience will make us a class that will be remembered forever, and we should embrace that.”
Benyard isn’t the only senior who feels that way about her class.
In the wake of the coronavirus, Ocoee seniors — like others around Orange County — lost many traditions that go hand-in-hand with high school. They lost their prom, sporting events and traditional graduation ceremony.
That said, their perseverance is what has made this class so special, said senior Tiara Youngs.
“What makes us unique is our ability to keep pushing through hard times,” Youngs said. “For example, everything we looked forward to got swept away from us in a split second, and even though we are sad about a change in tradition we made the best of it by cherishing the little things our teachers and administrators have done for us.”
Emilie Montgomery, the class’ salutatorian, seconded Youngs’ remarks about how truly resilient the 2020 class has been in the face of so much diversity.
“Our high school years have been filled with trials, opportunities, and lots of ups and down,” Montgomery said. “We have met them all with sheer determination and perseverance that has brought us here today.”
The time at home — away from their school and friends — has allowed graduating seniors the time to reflect on their years at Ocoee High. Senior Noah Gabryluk said he will remember the Class of 2020’s diversity.
“I think what makes the Class of 2020 unique is that we are more diverse than any other graduating class has been,” Gabryluk said. “We have kids from all sorts of different backgrounds, kids that have different interests and different personalities. Everyone has something new and unique to bring to the table, which makes life at school so much more interesting.”
Although there are many fond memories to look back on for this truly unique graduating class, the plan now for many is to look forward to what lies ahead.
For Montgomery, it’s about making an impact — not only for themselves but also for the world around them.
“With the end of our senior year brings about a new wave of hard workers, leaders, creative minds and innovators,” Montgomery said. “We will forge a future that will inspire generations to come. Potential lies in our hands, and I have no doubt that everyone can find their success and happiness in life.”
Along with accomplishing your goals, it’s also important to remember one thing — you are the only person in charge of making your dreams happen, Benyard said.
“I charge all of you to leave high school knowing that you are the only one who can stop you from achieving your goals,” Benyard said. “Do not let society or naysayers tell you that you are not capable, because they are wrong, and I believe in each of you. As our class motto states, ‘Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.’”