Beneath a clouded sky on a pleasantly cool evening, North Callaway High School's Class of 2020 waited, 6 feet apart, to cross the stage and turn their tassels.
A few differences marked Thursday's graduation ceremony apart from those of previous years. For one, it took place in the football field, rather than the gym. For another, taped-off sections of the bleachers separated families. A few spectators wore face masks. The seniors skipped the traditional handshake with Principal Brian Jobe.
"It's not at all what we pictured," said Kaylee English, graduate speaker and senior class secretary.
But the joy on the graduates' faces was familiar and unmistakable. After weeks of taking classes from home, the 87 graduates were reunited one last time.
Family members in the audience seemed to be having a good time, too.
"I think (the way the school organized commencement) is neat," Scott Robinett said. "And as a small community, there's not much to sorry about — we're not booming with cases."
Joy Young, grandmother of one of the graduates, said she always thought outdoor ceremonies were nice.
In fact, English said, herself and the other class officers actually lobbied the school board for an outdoor graduation way back in fall.
Jobe lauded the seniors for their perseverance and diligence through difficult circumstances. Though the seniors haven't had a "traditional year," he noted they're far from the first class to face such disruptions — for example, during World War II, many graduating seniors enlisted in the military.
"Many of us have been asked to set aside the norm for the greater good," he said. "It's your reaction that will be remembered. As you've heard me say many times before, life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react."
Superintendent Nicky Kemp noted the class's resilience.
"The good times, bad times, happy times, sad times and even these unusual times have shaped and will continue to shape you," she said. "When things get tough, you have the ability to pull through."
Parker Smiley was the class valedictorian, while Daelyn Schmauch was the salutatorian. Others in the academic top 10 included Clara Moser, Savannah Littlefield, Emily Smith, Kody Lee, Alexandra Higgins, Brayden Cannon, Rachel Pezold and Ellie Eckert.
English encouraged her classmates to "chase all your dreams" and hold onto their memories of their four years at NCHS.
"We're extremely lucky to have something that makes goodbye so difficult," she said.
To watch the full ceremony, search for the "North Callaway R1 Official Channel" on YouTube.