Abilene High School Principal Ben Smith addressed the graduating class of 2020 with family and friends spread throughout the AHS Gym at its commencement Sunday afternoon, two months after it was originally scheduled in May and just one day before Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order ending all school related activities until after Labor Day, Sept. 7 took effect.

Making the best of a situation is how Jaden Wood, president of the National Honor Society, described the Abilene High School graduating class of 2020.

Since spring break, the last nine weeks of school, all students and teachers had to find a silver lining, she said.

Students never returned to the halls of AHS after spring break last March. All athletic events and student activities were canceled. Students took classes over the internet from home.

Sunday, three months after it was supposed to happen, graduating seniors gathered at the school and were honored during commencement ceremonies. It was one day before Gov. Laura Kelly’s mandate that all schools remain closed until after Labor Day went into effect.

Each graduate invited four guests which were seated throughout the AHS gymnasium which often has had standing room only for past graduations.

All were greeted at the door with hand sanitizer.

All were required to wear masks throughout the event.

The Abilene High School teachers and other family and friends had to watch the ceremony from home on YouTube. The high school choir and band did not perform.

“Many times it can be so easy to take for granted everyday gestures, objects, even people because it seems like there is all the clouds around you,” Wood said. “But we must make it through together only by finding the silver lining. The power of the silver lining is the ability to change the world.

“Many times it is the small things in life that have the most power: a smile, a friendly text message, a roll of toilet paper,” she said.

She said she has learned that it is not how you start or how you finish but about everything that is done in between.

“Beginnings and endings can be rough but you have the power to make the best of every second in between,” she said. “The fire of adversity along the way is what forged you to be the strong, resilient person that you are and continue to be the rest of your life. No one can take that away from you.

“We have to continue to remain hopeful in these uncertain times,” she said.


“Graduation doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” AHS Principal Ben Smith told the graduates. “There are thousands and thousands of pieces, that when put together, allow a day like today to be a reality. Not just in terms of what it takes for you to get to graduation, which we will get to shortly, but the actual event itself. This ceremony today is not possible without the efforts of some great and dedicated people.

“The fact that you made it here today shows that you can do anything,” Smith said. “The future is yours. How will you affect change and what will the size and shape of the mark you leave on the world be and what will it look like? Believe me, we, all of us, are super excited to find out what you will be able to do.

“Our world and your future do not exist in a vacuum,” he said.

He told the students they earned the graduation ceremony.

“Make no mistake, you have earned it. Endless hours of work and dedication and, in the end, flexibility, patience and resilience all worked together to get you here,” he said.

He said resilience was one of the key factors that helped get students and teachers through the last nine weeks of school.

“Learning doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” he said.

Smith praised the teaching staff. He said that since spring break the teachers were asked to alter their teaching and their beliefs about what learning is about.

“What we asked them to do over spring break, to not only alter how they were teaching, but also to alter their fundamental beliefs of what learning ought to be about, without compromising core principles, was remarkable,” Smith said. “And it occurred all throughout our district, in all of our classrooms in every school. When challenged, they immediately put their heads together, collaborated as professionals, leaders, and friends, to help put together the final touches on what was a very strange year indeed.”

He said, although the last nine weeks wasn’t perfect, We learned more about what individual students experience, how our decisions affect multiple layers of learning, and just how darn important quality instruction is, than we have during any other 9-week period in our careers.

“When you leave here, be the best people you can be everyday. And with every decision you make, ask yourselves what is the greater good? What can I do to enrich the lives of those around me everyday? How can I protect the defenseless? How can I defend the common good? And how can I be a servant to humanity in every decision that I make and every action that I choose?

Smith also announced the 12 valedictorians:

Annie Bathurst, Liz Collins, Aaron Geissinger, Taylor Heitschmidt, Beth Holmes, Jackson Randles, Sarah Samsel, Savannah Stout, Jade Vopat, Jaden Wood, Josh Young and Anna Zey all had perfect 4.0 grade point averages in high school.

Contact Tim Horan at

Contact Tim Horan at

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