The sanctuary that should’ve been filled with graduating seniors and their families may have been empty, but the Class of 2020 nevertheless had its baccalaureate service.
The Bartow County School System conducted its first-ever virtual districtwide baccalaureate service for Adairsville, Cass and Woodland high schools Friday night at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville.
A collaboration between Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page and Bartow Baptist Association President David Franklin, the service featured six graduating seniors from the three schools as well as pastors from several local churches.
“We are all excited to kick off a celebration and recognition of our seniors, their families and the educators that helped guide everyone to this milestone,” Cass High Principal Stephen Revard said. “As we have all heard, we are in this together; we know that we are stronger together; and it is our faith that will keep us together.”
Kyle Clayton, pastor of Cartersville First Baptist Church, welcomed members of the Class of 2020 to their baccalaureate service, which looked “completely different” than anyone expected, but it “serves the purpose of taking time to pause and reflect on what has been accomplished and achieved over the course of this school year.”
“Throughout this process, you’ve been able to accomplish something that students hadn’t done in over a century, and that is to graduate high school in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
Clayton also said the seniors’ situation is an example of Romans 12:15, which says people should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, and “as a senior in the Class of 2020, you fit into both of these categories.”
Everyone is rejoicing with the graduates for their hard work and accomplishments, but it also is a “time to mourn because this just isn’t quite right,” he said.
The speaker also recognized parents for the “sleepless hours, the worrying nights” they spent praying for their students and the teachers for “getting these students up to this point.”
Clayton had one final thought to share with the graduates.
“Students, as you reflect on the past, keep the memories that are good, learn from those that are bad, and for the future, I give you one piece of advice: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,’” he said.
Mr. and Miss Cass High School, Logan Nelson and Isabelle Prater, recognized all of Bartow County’s graduates.
Prater, the senior class vice president, talked about watching her classmates mature from “crazy, immature freshmen to well-rounded adults ready to take on all the craziness life throws our way.”
“It’s crazy to think that at 18 years old, we’re supposed to know what we want to do for the rest of our lives, but I think it’s important to know that we don’t have to have everything figured out right now,” she said. “We can change our minds; we can take a new path; but in the end, stick with all the things that make you happy and bring you the most joy.”
Prater said this “crazy time” has taught her how to be resilient and not take anything for granted.
“Before school was unexpectedly released, most of us were feeling senioritis,” she said. “We were so ready to graduate and leave high school. But then, it was taken away from us, without warning, and we began to realize how much we were really losing. We were losing our last day of class. We were losing our chance to say goodbye to all the people who have been around us for the last four years.”
She also said she hopes most of all that her fellow graduates have learned “that when we get knocked down, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to get back up.”
After being introduced by WHS senior class President Jasmine Hill, keynote speaker the Rev. Randy B. Livsey, pastor of Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, told the senior they may feel like they’ve been robbed of their final year of school, but “you’ve been specially chosen because God knew that you could handle it and that you would come out on top and you wouldn’t let it deter your destiny.”
“So I salute you tonight, Adairsville High, Cass High and Woodland High, for a job well done,” he said.
Livsey spoke to Class of 2020 on how to handle failure, an “odd title for a baccalaureate” but an important subject to discuss.
Most people will have more failures than successes in life, and how they handle those failures will determine whether or not they will be successful, the pastor said.
“Success requires 100 things to go right, but failure just one that to goes wrong,” he said.
He also said people are prepared to talk about their dreams but are less prepared to acknowledge their shortcomings and failures.
“They don’t want to confront their losses,” he said. “They’re embarrassed by them. And when they do find themselves falling short, they may find themselves saying something like this, ‘Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.’ The message is this: Hope to win, expect to lose and live with the results either way.”
But there’s something wrong with that message, Livsey said.
“It’s not how winners think,” he said. “Successful people know the way to turn a setback into a step forward is you don’t try to brush it under the rug. You don’t run away from your losses. You learn from them, not some time, but every time. Successful people understand that life’s greatest lessons are gained from our failures.”
He also told the seniors they can’t allow failures to weaken, imprison, paralyze, dishearten or define them. Instead, they should use negative experiences as motivation to reach their goals.
“In adulthood, which you are about to embark upon, you’re going to get knocked down,” he said. “Every adult you know has failed, whether or not they admit it or not. They’ve had some shortcomings; they’ve done some dumb stuff; and they’ve made some mistakes. But the key is they figured out what it was; they got back up; and they didn’t let the same thing knock them down again. Failure prepares you for success.”
Also participating in the program were Drew Elrod, pastor of Salem Baptist Church, opening Scripture; Frank Bennett, pastor of Lake Point Church, invocation; WHS senior class Secretary Madison Ray and Treasurer Kayla Gales, reciting the poem “As You Travel Through Life” by an unknown author; Benjy Linder, student pastor of Tabernacle, closing remarks; and AHS honor graduate Bethany Purdue, benediction.
Revard said he thought the students and pastors who participated in the service did an “outstanding job.”
“Plus, Benjy Linder and his team at Tabernacle Baptist Church worked hard to live stream the event with excellent picture and sound quality,” he said. “It was really moving to see everything come together in such a meaningful way.”
Prater, 18, said she, too, thought the service “went very well.”
“Obviously, the service was a little unconventional, but I greatly appreciated the efforts of everyone involved to pull it off.”
Revard said the baccalaureate service “traditionally kicks off a weeklong celebration of our seniors.”
“With so many other events being pushed back, we wanted to give the Class of 2020 something they could count on,” he said. “Events that celebrate our students and their accomplishments are really important to everyone involved. When it was announced that schools in Georgia would need to close for the remainder of the year, all three high schools worked collaboratively to adjust plans, share ideas and resources. Our discussions evolved with input from students, parents and staff members.”
Prater said she was chosen as a speaker after being awarded the title of Miss CHS.
“This is a very important honor for me as it is awarded to the most-involved individuals in the class,” she said. “I was honored to be able to speak and give the senior class a little sense of normalcy in this crazy time.”
Her speech was written “with the hearts of all seniors in mind,” she said.
“We’re all having the same feelings and experiencing the same sadness about losing our school year so I wanted to bring something positive to everyone’s attention because after all, we have also gained a lot," she said.