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Melissa seniors reunite for a last goodbye

Joshua Baethge,
The Anna-Melissa Tribune
Graduates toss their caps into the air during Melissa High School's graduation ceremony on June 5 at Melissa ISD Stadium.

MELISSA - For a while, it seemed like it might not happen.

The COVID-19 global pandemic made the idea of an end-of-year graduation for Melissa High School’s class of 2020 seem doubtful at times.

Plans were made for a virtual tassel turn and cap throw. An online commencement ceremony streamed via YouTube and Facebook had been announced. District officials floated the possibility of a mid-June ceremony, or maybe even one in July, but nothing was assured

However, thanks to the lifting of certain state-mandated social distancing requirements, Melissa seniors got an in-person graduation ceremony on June 5 in their hometown football stadium, only six days later than originally planned.

Principal Kenneth Wooten said it was one more chance for them to have Friday night lights.

The ceremony was not quite like those in previous years. Students were limited to only five family members in the audience. All in attendance were screened beforehand for coronavirus symptoms. Attendees were also required to sit apart from other families and encouraged to wear face coverings.

Despite these less than ideal conditions, students and families alike were generally thrilled to end the strange school year by walking across the stage after it seemed unlikely not long ago.

Superintendent Keith Murphy began the evening by saying that if gratitude were riches, he would be a very rich man. He also acknowledged that everyone was living in a strange and awkward time, with national events threatening to divide people.

“I stand here tonight with the families of Melissa expressing my love and my compassion and my gratitude and my sincere joy to see our kids come back together for one final moment,” he said.

Salutatorian Ella Branson began with a quote from Will Ferrell's character Ricky Bobby from the comedy “Talladega Nights,” saying she was actually last because “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”

She jokingly congratulated all families in attendance for being one of their graduate’s top five favorite people.

Branson then turned serious, noting that if she would have known her last day on campus was going to be in March, she would have appreciated things a little more.

She thanked all those who had helped her throughout her school career.

“One of the most important lessons I have learned is that life goes on,” she said. “You have to take the hand that life has dealt you and do the best you can with it.”

Valedictorian Zachary Butterfield said he was been blown away by Melissa’s sense of community ever since he arrived in town.

“There’s been a lot of change in the last three months, but the one thing that stayed constant is the overwhelming support that we graduates have received from the Melissa community,” he said. “Everyone here tonight is proof of that.”

Butterfield reminisced about the school year just completed, adding a few humorous asides along the way, as well as quotes from Bon Jovi and Bo Jackson.

He ended by telling his classmates that the determination they had shown over the past few months proved that they could achieve any goals on which they set their sights.

“Whatever you want to do after tonight, got out and do it. It might be a little while before the world stops ending but, whatever you want your mark on the world to be, go out and make it,” he said. “Class of 2020, my friends, farewell. And may God be with you the entire way.”

A Melissa High School senior receives his diploma during the school's commencement ceremony June 5.