The graduation of Olentangy Berlin High School’s class of 2020 was always going to be memorable – even historical.

But the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic will make it stand out in a way no one saw coming.

This year’s graduates will carry the distinction of being the first in school history to turn their tassels – but 2020 also will be remembered for remote learning, lost sports seasons and a drive-thru graduation ceremony.

“We were all disappointed when graduation got canceled,” said senior Evette Harrell in the days prior to the May 29 “commencement walk” outside the school.

“But now, I guess it’s going to be a graduation that no one ever forgets.”

“Even now I think there’s still a little shock we’re all feeling,” senior Tanner Shimp said.

Principal Todd Spinner acknowledged that many of this year’s seniors began their time at Berlin with disappointment.

“A little over two years ago, all these kids found out they were going to get moved to a new school halfway through their high school careers. Most of them were apprehensive and tentative,” Spinner said.

“But once they bought in to the idea of building something new together, there was nothing stopping them.”

“There were so many opportunities to try new things and to find ways to lead at a new school,” Harrell said. “It was 100% a change I didn’t know I needed.”

“We had roots established,” said senior Jake Hill, who, like Harrell and Shimp, came to Berlin from Olentangy High School.

“We were disappointed, transferring to a new school with no culture and no traditions,” Hill said. “Mr. Spinner and the teachers worked really hard to build a culture and make it special.”

When their senior year began to unravel in early March, that culture was tested.

“It felt like our community was being ripped from us,” Hill said. “There was the realization that we were never going to walk the halls as students at Berlin again.

“After that initial sadness, though, we knew there was no reason to throw away our senior year, whether it was having club meetings on Zoom or hanging out at a distance in parking lots. We didn’t want it to be this thing that was holding us back.”

“At first it didn’t seem real,” said Harrell, who lost her senior year of track and field to the school closures. “It was definitely disappointing, but our coaches and teachers and Mr. Spinner have done everything they could to make us feel special.”

Shimp turned his early disappointment into productivity, starting his summer job – he owns a landscaping business – a couple of months early.

“It’s forced us to realize the value of our friendships and prepare us for the idea that, for our next step, we’re going to be apart from each other,” Hill said.

“When we look back, I think we’ll see we learned a lot about how you never really know how things are going to go in life,” Harrell said.

Seniors repaid Spinner with a drive-thru parade past his home in late May, putting a fine point on the culture the principal and the class of 2020 have helped build for future students at Berlin.

“No matter how graduation was, we were the first,” Harrell said.

Berlin’s first graduating class was 279 seniors strong. Madison Voinovich was the valedictorian.

Olentangy’s other three high schools held similar ceremonies to honor their graduates as May ended.

Olentangy High School graduated 254 in its May 28 ceremony. Sean Brown was the valedictorian.

A total of 565 seniors became Olentangy Liberty High School alumni May 31. Valedictorians were Liam Chen and Grace Marie Tennant.

Olentangy Orange High School’s graduating class has 530 members. Pujith Kachana was valedictorian for the May 30 commencement.

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