University Heights Academy hosted graduation Thursday night in a way none of the 2020 graduating class would have ever imagined at the beginning of the school year.

The graduation was in the front yard and parking lot of the school where graduates sat in a chair at the end of a parking spot with their families sitting in their cars adjacent to them.

All of the seniors were separated by 6 feet to encourage social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, UHA’s graduates were all laughs and smiles as they walked across the stage.

While the seniors donned their graduation gowns, they also wore protective face masks, all of which were the color green to match the school’s colors.

Teachers cleaned the microphone between each speaker to prevent the spread of germs and possibly the coronavirus.

While the seniors and their families felt the impact of the pandemic on their senior year of high school, students were positive and hopeful about their future.

“Of course, this moment is definitely not what any of us had in mind,” said Jackson Cotthoff, a graduating senior and one of three valedictorians who gave speeches during the ceremony.

“None of us could have predicted the way the semester turned out — how everyone’s carefully laid plans were completely thrown out the window come March. It’s kind of disappointing that the seniors missed out on so much this year. No senior prank, no senior prom, no Easter egg hunt. Although we probably got the best senior skip day in history.

“And yet, despite everything, here we are. We still got to show up to graduation, to probably the most memorable one at that.”

UHA Head of School Beth Unfried took a moment in her speech to say that the pandemic, while it prevented the seniors from having a normal end of the year, proves that the 2020 class is resilient and persistent.

“I feel perseverance is a theme for the class of 2020,” Unfried said to the crowd. “No other class in the history of UHA has had an experience quite like this. It is sad how the school year has ended for you all, but this class continues to show the persistence and tenacity to keep going.”

The other two valedictorians, Kevli Sheth and Roma Desai, also shared similar themes during their speeches, emphasizing the pride they felt as UHA students and seniors to push through the pandemic and graduate from high school and move on to the next phase of their lives.

UHA honored its graduating class of 2020 with several awards that the school was not able to give during their usual awards ceremony day.

Unfried began those awards by announcing that the Head of School award was given to senior Adam Scribby Goode.

Marvin Denison, UHA’s Upper School Director and teacher, shared that UHA began a tradition of awarding the Dr. Melissa Yates Gray Memorial Science Scholarship Award to an outstanding science student.

However, Denison announced that this year, one student could not be chosen. Instead, for the first year in UHA history, two students were chosen for the award, Roma Desai and Kevli Sheth.

“This year they literally could not make a decision, so they have awarded two Gray scholarships to these two outstanding young ladies,” Denison said to the crowd.

Desai and Sheth also both earned the National Merit Scholars awards.

“In the entire history of the school, until tonight, we have had seven Merit Scholars. Ladies and gentlemen, we now have nine,” Denison said to the crowd, congratulating Desai and Sheth.

Denison also announced that Lily Hendricks was awarded the Elizabeth Atwood Award, Allison Sunderhaus was awarded The Kiwanis Citizenship Award and UHA Technology Director Joanah Kendall was awarded the Weidmer Faculty Award.

Denison then honored the best students of each class, meaning highest numerical average for the year. Ninth grade winner was Katelyn Bennett, 10th grade winner was Walter Kunnman, 11th grade winner was Rohan Desai and the 12th grade winner was Roma Desai.

Denison towards the end of the ceremony announced that the 28 graduating seniors for 2020 earned over $1 million dollars in scholarships, which did not include KEES money.

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