Maddox Stinson shakes Principal Jeremiah Johnston’s hand as Vice Principal Beth Blatt looks on during Cody High School’s mock graduation ceremony at Sweitzer Gym on May 12.

Valedictorian Meg Burkhart wants her Cody High School classmates to appreciate all of the support they have had over the years, and to not take personal connections for granted.

Salutatorian Dillon Romero is using a metaphor about dark chocolate to show the need to look for the sweet moments in what has been a tough, bitter period of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two seniors will have their prerecorded speeches aired along with those of other students, teachers and staff to celebrate the 130 CHS graduates prior to a parade through town to receive diplomas.

The May 31 celebration – the parade starts near the airport at 1 p.m. – comes two days after a Heart Mountain Academy graduation in the CHS senior parking lot at 6 p.m. Friday to honor 19 grads.

HMA principal Beth Blatt said each senior will get to ring a bell made specially for the school that signifies the completion of their hard work.

Neither event is anywhere near typical, so while the video will include many of the standard aspects of previous graduations in Sweitzer Gym, it’s clearly a special event.

“As part of the video you’ll see the uniqueness acknowledged, but it’s still like a traditional graduation,” said CHS principal Jeremiah Johnston.

He said there would be comments from teachers and staff spliced throughout the video as well as a Zoom concert by the CHS band. The key feature, as in all graduations, is recognizing the students’ achievement.

“This group has been a great class.”

Beyond the valedictorian and salutatorian, other seniors will be highlighted as well in the video, including Duncan McLeod, winner of the Principal’s Award.

Danny Deming and Mya Snyder were chosen by students to deliver the farewell address.

Before those, viewers will see the two students with the top academic careers try and send their fellow graduates off into a very different world than the one they expected to graduate into.

Burkhart, who is headed to Dartmouth College in the fall – whether in person or online she doesn’t yet know – to pursue a pre-med degree with emphasis in neurobiology, said she never imagined she’d give her speech in front of a video camera, her parents, brother, school administrators and board members, but no students.

Still, she spoke to her classmates in her recorded message.

“I tried to focus on what’s happening in the world and how it’s highlighting this persistent compassion,” Burkart said. “People on the front lines are working to help keep the world running.

“Being persistent, having resolve and compassion are very important qualities for us as graduates to take away from this.”

She said doing schoolwork from home, without the support of peers and teachers physically together, has been hard. However, she said it makes students understand all of the support they have had through school.

“Nothing is like having friends, teachers and mentors around you,” she said. “It gives you a new appreciation.”

Romero likewise said it has made him appreciate his friends more and the act of simply connecting with others in person.

“It’s made me realize how valuable friendships and other relationships are,” he said.

Romero is attending the U.S. Air Force Academy in the fall to study environmental biology and, due to the pandemic, will be flying down by himself for the start of basic training and then classes as the traditional first day parent drop-off was cancelled.

It’s yet another tough change from normal, but as in Romero’s metaphor about dark chocolate, the goal is to find the silver linings. His are having time to hike and camp more and take in nature.

“Just like dark chocolate, life is pretty bitter unless you know how to eat it,” he said. “It seemed like a fitting metaphor, especially right now.

“Life kind of sucks right now, especially on a global perspective. But if you look for the sweetness you can find it.”

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