Members of the Beechcroft High School and Northland High School classes of 2020 endured a tumultuous end to their senior year -- but they are moving forward.
A total of 144 seniors graduated from Beechcroft in a virtual ceremony June 24.
It was the culmination of a school year in which Gov. Mike DeWine announced an order that all Ohio school buildings be shuttered March 16 -- an order that eventually encompassed the remainder of the school year -- due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
"At first, it was kind of hard to grasp; it was awkward, and it got ripped away so fast," said senior Alhaji Sidibe, who will attend Ohio Wesleyan University in the fall semester to study health and human kinetics with a focus on sports management. "But I think I've adjusted well to it. I think our parents and our class, all of us together as classmates, have made it as good as possible."
Sidibe, who also will play football and wrestle at OWU, said he hopes his classmates assume a leadership mentality for the future.
"Always, for my classmates and the people that I know, always be a leader," he said. "We're going to be 18, but we're going to be grown folks, a part of the real world now. What we say matters and what we do matters. We're not going to be children.
"We'll have people to rely on, but for the most part, we'll be grown adults -- so just be leaders anywhere we go," he said.
Class speakers included Bosouma Marie Beugre with a speech titled "An Immigrant's Dream," Adeola Moshood with "Overcoming Our Obstacles" and Tiara Hale with "The Perfect Vision."
Ninety members of the class of 2020 plan to attend college.
"The takeaways from this year are to never let difficult circumstances hinder you from achieving your goals," principal Samuel Johnson said. "Your understanding and acceptance of others despite one's differences is what this nation needs. You are the change that will improve this society for the better."
"Don't ever forget the Beechcroft motto: 'Continue to do the amazing to be amazing.' "
Northland High School's 223 graduates turned their tassels during the school's 52nd commencement ceremony June 23, also online only.
This year's seniors were offered about $3.7 million in scholarships, school leaders said.
Senior Rebecca Maston said she has come to terms with the "unconventional" ending to the school year.
"It's not an ideal situation for any senior this year, but the way it's being handled is as good as it's going to get," she said. "I'm OK with it. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had the chance to walk across the stage and be with my friends.
"Even though we're not doing that, we're still getting our graduation in a way."
Maston, one of seven valedictorians, plans to attend Otterbein University to major in science and health promotion, with a goal to eventually become a strength coach.
She spoke to her classmates in a recorded speech that aired during the ceremony.
"The biggest point that I had is don't take anything for granted, and make sure if you say anything at all in this life and in this world, make sure that's heard and listened to," Maston said.
Northland principal Jason Johnson said he hopes members of the 2020 class take the lessons learned over the last three months and apply them to future challenges.
"The most important message that I want them to get out of, not just this commencement exercise but out of everything they've gone through since we had a premature closing to the school year, that regardless of what they have to go through, there are still ways for them to meet the goals they've set for themselves," Johnson said.
"The obstacles may be many, but they have found a way to endure and make it to this very important stage in the journey."
During the ceremony, each class was addressed by NBC Today's Al Roker, ABC journalist Deborah Roberts, Columbus City Schools Superintendent Talisa Dixon and motivational speaker Eric Thomas.
In addition, media producer Amjed Osman, a 2012 Northland graduate, spoke to seniors at his alma mater.