TIANA Ruden was born in China and given up for adoption due to Mao’s one child policy. Last week she graduated valedictorian from Savannah Arts Academy.
Like other members of the class of 2020, her senior year did not go as planned.
Ruden recorded her valedictorian speech at the Yamacraw Center located at Garrison School for the Arts the week before graduation.
Instead of giving the speech at the Savannah Civic Center in front of her classmates, she wore her pajamas and watched the ceremony in her living room with her parents.
“Out of all the things that were unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19, I miss graduation the most,” Ruden says. “High school graduation is such a special and unique ceremony for not only the student, but also for friends and family. Graduation is the culmination of all of our hard work over the past four years and helps provide us much needed closure.”
Ruden had other family in New York and North Carolina watching, as her name was called and her senior year photo came across the screen while “Pomp and Circumstance” was playing in the background.
All graduates were instructed to stand and move their tassel at the end of the virtual graduation ceremony as they were pronounced official graduates of Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.
“I was a junior marshal for the graduation of the class of 2019, and I’ve been counting down the days until my own graduation ever since then. As the valedictorian for my graduating class, I was looking forward to giving an in-person speech to my peers, hearing the other students’ speeches, and celebrating the accomplishments of the class of 2020 along with my fellow classmates,” laments Ruden.
“Even though we won’t get a traditional graduation, I’m so thankful that the district has put together a virtual graduation ceremony to honor the class of 2020.”
The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System class of 2020 is used to missing days of school for different events due to Mother Nature, such as Hurricane Matthew, a full solar eclipse, and a snow storm. But nothing compares to a worldwide pandemic that shuttered schools across the globe.
Many SCCPSS teachers and administrators diligently worked to provide special touches for the class of 2020, such as graduation signs in the front yard of every senior and principals personally delivering diplomas to each home.
In addition to a traditional graduation ceremony, the class of 2020 missed many other activities such as prom, senior skip day, senior prank, field day, spring concerts, senior lunches, and of course the senior Grad Bash trip to Universal Studios.
“I had high hopes for senior year. Going into my final year at Savannah Arts Academy, I knew that the first semester would be stressful with SATs, AP classes, and scholarship and college applications,” acknowledges Ruden. “However, I was always hopeful for prom, Grad Bash, college acceptances, senior week, concerts, Film Fest, and graduation.”
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning, zoom calls, social distancing, and online exams have all become part of our daily routine. No student has stepped inside our school building since March 13, more than two months ago.”
While Ruden didn’t miss the 6 a.m. wake up alarm in lieu of getting three extra hours of sleep before she had to check in for her 9 a.m. class on Zoom, there is plenty that she did miss.
“I miss little things like laughing with my friends, seeing my teachers smile in the hallway, and rushing up the stairs to my next period,” says Ruden.
“Teachers have organized daily zoom calls and have gone out of their way to personally deliver yard signs to seniors. Recently, we had a ‘curbside pickup day’ where all the seniors carpooled into school to pick up our gaps and gowns, honor cords, and other graduation regalia. People went all out for the event by decorating their cars and decorating the fence outside Savannah Arts Academy. It was so heartwarming to see all of the SAA teachers, parents, and administration cheer us on during this occasion.”
Tiana Ruden plans to attend Princeton University in the fall and pursue a concentration in public policy. “Princeton has been my top school since I toured the campus last summer, so being accepted on ‘Ivy Day’ truly was a dream come true for me.”
“Many universities such as the California State University System and Harvard Medical School have announced plans for an online fall semester, so I wouldn’t be surprised if other colleges like Princeton follow suit,” guesses Ruden.
“Online classes, freshmen orientations, and extracurricular events are a real possibility, but we’ll all be flexible and make the most of the situation regardless. I’m still excited to make new friends and start my freshman year off strong. Everyone is doing their best to keep themselves and others safe during this worldwide pandemic.”
Ruden concludes, “The class of 2020 has been so strong, diligent, and resilient throughout these past four years. Many people have commented that we were born into a world shocked by the aftermath of 9/11; we were raised during the economic crisis of 2008 Recession; and now we graduate during a global pandemic. Yet despite all of these hardships, we have stayed hopeful, and so many of us have had an amazing high school experience marked by loving friendships, incredible memories, and well-earned success. We will all reminisce about our days in high school and look back at it fondly. Going forward, we will stay optimistic about the future and continue to look forward to the next extraordinary chapter in our lives.”