The Star-Herald

Fort Fairfield honors 2020 graduates with weekend of celebrations

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Though the COVID-19 pandemic kept Fort Fairfield High School’s Class of 2020 students from spending their final months of school together, they and their family and community members took full advantage of alternative celebrations leading up to and during their graduation ceremony.

Fort Fairfield senior Kayla Law-Hood rides on the back of an ATV during a vehicle procession to honor the town’s high school graduates on Friday, June 5, two days before graduation. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star-Herald)

On Friday, the 26 graduates took part in a vehicle procession down Presque Isle Street and Main Street in Fort Fairfield. Dozens of family members stood beside their own vehicles on the sidewalks to cheer on the students. 

The seniors were all smiles as they honked car horns and waved to the supportive crowd. Above the sidewalks hung custom-made banners featuring photographs of each member of the graduating class.

Just two days later, the graduating class marched to a tent that staff members had set up on the hill overlooking the baseball and track fields of their high school. Due to social distancing guidelines, family members watched the graduation ceremony from their vehicles, with many standing outside to snap photos and cheer for the class. 

Despite dark clouds that loomed overhead, heavy rain held off throughout the ceremony. To keep the ceremony as short as possible, only salutatorian Jessica Halsey and valedictorian Colby Giberson gave their traditional graduation speeches after a brief welcome from SAD 20 superintendent Tim Doak.

Fort Fairfield High School saluatorian Jessica Halsey addresses the Class of 2020 during their graduation ceremony June 7. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star-Herald)

Halsey spoke of the teachers and family members who helped the class during their journey through high school and the challenges they faced during the pandemic.

“The past four years have allowed us to grow as individuals,” Halsey said. “We have so many memories and goals ahead of us. Cheers to the Class of 2020.”

In the fall, Halsey will be attending Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and study chemistry on a pre-med track.

Giberson said that although he felt reluctant to bring up the pandemic once again, he needed to acknowledge how the unprecedented events affected his classmates. They missed out on many milestone events of senior year, including an academic awards banquet and prom.

Nonetheless, Giberson noted, high school was still the place where he and his classmates formed friendships, discovered new things about themselves and proved that they could handle life’s many challenges.

“In the blink of an eye, life completely changed, but like any change we moved forward,” Giberson said. “From surviving high school to living life in quarantine, we made it because of our will to do our best.”

Vehicles lined the track field at Fort Fairfield High School to watch the Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony on Sunday, June 7. (Melissa Lizotte | The Star-Herald)

Giberson will attend Bates College in Lewiston this fall, where he will major in anthropology.

Many members of the Class of 2020 have plans to attend universities or community colleges. The entire class received more than $79,000 in college scholarships, with more than $62,000 coming from Fort Fairfield community organizations and more than $17,000 from programs outside Aroostook County.

Though the pandemic forced the graduates to sit six feet apart, wear face masks and pick up awards and diplomas at a table, family members lifted their spirits with enthusiastic applause and car horns. 

Following graduation, folks drove by the graduates, who stood in a processional near the school building, to give their congratulations in person.

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