Stansbury High School’s graduating class of 2020 has faced challenges unlike any class before it in the school’s history, with its senior year punctuated by the COVID-19 pandemic that took away so many of its would-be milestones.
However, in the months since, the mantra “Stay Stallion Strong” came to define the graduates, as well as the school community that helped guide them through their high school journey. During an hour-long virtual graduation ceremony, graduates and SHS faculty members shared what being “Stallion Strong” means to them.
Danny Khoundet said he is driven by the memory of his late father, Addee, to face any challenges that stand in his way.
“You have all of your friends, your classmates, your teachers and all your family helping you go through the bad times and being there for you,” he said.
Jadyn Gagnier expressed the need to stay active to avoid dwelling on everything that is going on in the world, and Dillon Carpenter thanked parents, faculty and his fellow students for the support they provided him and all of his classmates in various activities through the years.
Math teacher Jacob Jones said ‘Stallion Strong’ means taking the next step and continuing to move forward together in the face of adversity, and Hope Squad advisor Toni Broadhead said that understanding others’ feelings is crucial. Athletic trainer Craig Leonelli said graduates should “look to the future, but live passionately in the present,” while ballroom coach Ali Bleazard likened the current challenge to a brick wall: “We have choices when we reach that brick wall. We can walk away from it; we can climb over it, as slow as that might take; or we can bust right through it,” she said.
SHS Principal Gailynn Warr lamented the loss of a traditional graduation ceremony in her remarks, recorded in an empty school auditorium. As has been tradition in her five previous commencement speeches, she had planned on a movie theme to give her advice to the graduates — this year’s speech would have been “Jumanji”-themed, featuring graduates Mason Stewart and Levi Gomez as Dr. Bravestone and Franklin Finbar, respectively.
“I would have told my graduates how important it is to remember they have superpowers, but only by combining their superpowers with others can they successfully navigate the jungle of life,” Warr said.
Instead, Warr shared her own personal story of a senior year that didn’t end how she expected. A star rodeo cowgirl, she went into the Utah High School Rodeo Association’s state finals as the favorite to win the breakaway roping competition, only to falter in the first round. She was so disappointed that it overshadowed her victory in the goat-tying competition.
“With my 2020 perspective, my experience seems so trivial, but it sure felt like the end of my world at that moment,” Warr said. “That was the culminating event of my youth — the exclamation mark on my senior year. Stallions, your senior year came to an abrupt end. Many of the best traditions, the culminating moments of your youth and the activities you looked forward to participating in with your classmates? They never happened. You have a right to feel angry and sad, frustrated and hurt.
“The pain and disappointment you have experienced might not be something you get over easily,” she added. “In fact, sometimes the loss we deal with is so great that we spend a lifetime trying to make sense out of it.”
Senior class president Drew Knudsen said it was difficulty to push through the last couple months of the school year, particularly with the change to online learning instead of in-person classes.
“Part of me thinks, ‘online school — please,’” Knudsen said. “If school was really essential, I could be looking at all of your faces right now. But there’s another, much more reasonable and grateful side of me that speaks up. I’ve been given so much and I’m so lucky to have gotten this experience, even if it got cut a little short.”
Class valedictorian Eden Beazer counted singer Josh Groban, “whose words raised me up so I could stand on mountains and walk on stormy seas,” and painter Bob Ross, “who taught me that the secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it,” among her inspirations. However, it was a Kenyan man named Oliver who provided her with a Swahili phrase meaning “little by little, a little becomes a lot,” who truly motivated her.
“Oliver taught me that success doesn’t happen immediately or overnight, and that it doesn’t come through huge strokes of instantaneous genius,” said Beazer, who plans to study biochemistry at Brigham Young University in Provo. “Success happens by commitment to do little things with consistency and discipline over time, that are easy to do, but just as easy not to do. They make all of the difference between success and failure, or greatness and average.”
Salutatorian David Bennett, who will attend Weber State University in Ogden and plans to double major in music and either biology or chemistry, played part of Claude Bolling’s suite “Volace” on his flute, while his father, Brian, accompanied him on piano.
Graduate Landon Richins quoted Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech during his address to his classmates, in which he encouraged them to carry the kindness and tolerance that they have shown each other over the years into the world with them as adults.
“Stansbury High School’s current graduating class is the epitome of kindness and acceptance of everyone,” Richins said. “The Class of 2020 has paid no mind to the commonly accepted status quo of separation between the athletes and the artists and the nerds and the cool kids. When you are a part of the Class of 2020, you are an equal to everyone.”
Daniel Westhora quoted Dale Carnegie in providing four ways for graduates to increase the world’s happiness: acknowledge others by being hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise; memorize and use names with sharp exactness; smile; and cultivate within yourself a genuine interest — a genuine regard — for other people.
“Ultimately, Stallions, the way you treat and regard other people will be your most enduring legacy,” Westhora said. “Your endeavors to change the world, whether you are a future parent or a future president, start with the people around you, for what is the world without its people?”
To conclude the ceremony, Tooele County School Board president Mareesa Manzione quoted lyrics from the Stansbury High fight song, R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Timbuk 3’s “The Future’s So Bright” to encourage the graduates in the face of a challenging world.
Emily McBride and Lucy Jones received Spirit Scholarships worth $500 each from the senior class. Paige Kennedy, Kaelon Verde, Logan Bishop, Rey Sellers and Emily Wilson performed the national anthem at the beginning of the ceremony, which also featured a choir performance of “How Far I’ll Go” from the Disney movie “Moana.”