Resiliency, respect topics of graduation messages

Tivy Valedictorian Will Johnston (left) and Salutatorian Race Risinger addressed their fellow graduates in a graduation ceremony that almost didn’t happen Friday night at Antler Stadium. The top duo reflected on their years in school and the unfortunate end to their senior year.

Coronavirus may have complicated the final months of their senior year, but in the face of unique challenges, Tivy High School’s graduating class of 2020 demonstrated relentless grit, determination – and a fight that never dies.

Socially distanced friends and family gathered in Tivy’s Antler Stadium at 8 p.m. Friday night for the commencement ceremony, where more than 300 graduates sat on the field six feet apart in caps and gowns.

As he took the stage, salutatorian Race Risinger thanked KISD Superintendent Dr. Mark Foust and Tivy Principal Shelby Balser for allowing the graduation ceremony to go forward despite uncertain times.

“It’s no secret that over the past few months, the world has erupted into chaos,” Risinger said in his address to his classmates.

But, he noted, a global pandemic cannot and will not define Tivy’s class of 2020.

“While yes, we have most definitely lost a lot this semester, a couple of months of misfortune does not define our actions – or define us,” Risinger said.

Instead, the class is defined by its accomplishments – such as raising $60,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, doubling the record of previous classes.

“Our band made it all the way to state for the first time in 50 years, and in athletics, our boys’ basketball team made it further than any other within the last decade,” Risinger added.

Last season, Tivy’s football team also beat Boerne-Samuel V. Champion High School and Alamo Heights High School for the third year in a row.

The class of 2020 – Tivy’s 125th graduating class – is “remarkable,” said Risinger. “They have overcome obstacles that few before have faced, and they have risen to the challenge.”

And while his class has worked hard academically, the lessons they learned are not confined to the pages of binders or textbooks.

“They are found within our experiences and our memories during such a pivotal stage in our lives,” he said.

Risinger said he was grateful that the seniors’ last day in the school building, March 12, was just like any other day.

“There’s something comforting about the normality of the day,” he said. “…When we look back at our time at Tivy, we will not have been 6 feet apart with masks on, but instead, it was completely and utterly normal – just as it should be.”

When valedictorian William Johnston took the stage, it was with a palpable air of gratitude.

“What a pleasure it is to be here in person, in the wake of such unprecedented circumstances,” he said, surveying the assembled.

Tasked with speaking about the bright future of his class, Johnston said he found it a tougher assignment than he’d anticipated – not because he doubts his class’s talent or abilities, but rather because of the diversity of the class of 2020.

“If this pandemic has proved anything, it’s that no one can predict the future,” Johnston said. “Everyone has their own goals, and everyone will have their own path to reach them.”

In that sense, life is like a novel, complete with character, plot, setting and tone – and, while everyone wants their own story to be great, only two components remain within an individual’s control: character and tone.

“All great stories are led by a great main character, (and) not all main characters are superheroes,” Johnston said. “Most are ordinary people who do something extraord- inary.”

It’s in the ordinary moments that extraordinary character is demonstrated, he added.

“You can be a great main character by being a great student, being great in your career … being a great parent, spouse, sibling or friend,” Johnston said. “Whatever it is you were made to do, do it to the best of your ability.”

The other component within an individual’s control is tone or attitude, he said, adding that he wanted to address “the elephant in the stadium:” coronavirus.

“Despite how large its presence has been, and how much harm it has caused, there is a silver lining. We have been given a unique opportunity to devote to personal projects (and) family time,” Johnston said.

While he was initially disheartened to lose the precious last few months of his senior year, he eventually reconsidered his attitude.

“I began to realize that regardless of circumstances, I control my happiness, and that life always has something good to offer if you’re willing to work with it,” said Johnston.

He added that while life’s plot and setting are unpredictable, the most beloved characters in literature make the most of every situation: Whether one’s story is happy or sad, inspiring or depressing, is largely a matter of choice.

Thanking his fellow graduates, he encouraged the class of 2020 to remain positive in the face of an unknown future as they close one chapter and begin another.

“Remarkable stories are made by remarkable individuals, individuals that excel at what they do and appreciate life while doing so,” Johnston concluded. “Remember that this is your story. Own it – and make the most of it.”

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