JRHS celebrates achievements of graduates through virtual ceremony

By Aila Boyd


Due to restrictions on public gatherings caused by COVID-19, James River High School held a virtual graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 last week.

To help commemorate the special moment, Matthew Ramsey, a James River Class of 1996 graduate and the lead singer of Old Dominion, provided words of encouragement. “You worked really hard to get here. All the way from kindergarten all the way to today, this moment has been coming. I know it’s a long road, but you made it. Congratulations,” he said.

He went on to advise the graduates to take a moment to be proud of their accomplishments. “It’s a special day and you should sit in that for as long as you need to, to let that soak in. Do that for yourself,” he said.

Teresa Hamm, a graduate of the James River Class of 1982, performed the national anthem.

Michelle Crook, the chair of the Botetourt County School Board, explained that the graduates will never stop learning no matter how old they get. Personally, she said, she learned that she took many customs for granted. “Going forward, I think many of us will recognize that we need to savor and cherish certain moments more,” she said.

In reference to the format of the ceremony, Crook said that the school division will not let COVID-19 negate the Class of 2020’s accomplishments. “It is important to our entire School Board that this entire Class of 2020 gets an in-person graduation ceremony just as soon as we can legally hold the ceremony,” she said. “We are committed to giving the Class of 2020 the rite of passage that you deserve.” She went on to request that the graduates promise to return for an in-person ceremony.

Payton Kreklow, the senior class president of the James River Class of 2020, thanked everyone who helped the graduates through the unpredictable past few months. “A year ago, this wasn’t even a thought on anyone’s mind, but now we are living through something that a few years from now will be an event that students study.”

Brooke Moran, the SCA president of the James River Class of 2020, started her remarks by saying, “This has been a crazy, but undoubtably historic 2020.”

She thanked Jamie Talbott who has served as principal of the school for the past 15 years. Before becoming principal, he served for four years as vice principal. The 2019-2020 school year is his last. “He has made such an impact on this school and community over the last 20 years. His commitment and service deserve to be recognized,” she said. “I will always remember him stopping me in the hallway just to make sure I was having a good day and saying something to put a smile on my face.”

Moran went on to note that seniors this year were not able to participate in many of the cherished customs that they were looking forward to. She specifically noted the custom of seniors going back to their old elementary schools.

Ashlee Woldman, the salutatorian of the James River Class of 2020, started her remarks by saying, “To the Class of 2020, we finally made it.”

She asked her fellow graduates to think back to when they first entered the halls of James River. “We started a new chapter in our lives and that chapter is now coming to a close. Before entering high school, I thought I knew what was ahead, but standing here today I can say nothing went the way any of us had planned. Throughout our time here, we have faced many challenges. But nothing compares to the one we’re facing today.”

She described not being able to participate in a ceremony with her fellow graduates as “devastating.”

Woldman went on to encourage the Class of 2020 to cherish the memories they made in high school and to continue to live in the moment.

Caroline Gross, the valedictorian of the James River Class of 2020, said, “I don’t know how to describe our senior year other than the fact that it was kind of rough, kind of hectic, and unfortunately kind of short. While this wasn’t exactly how we thought senior year was going to work out, you’ve just got to go with it sometimes.”

She noted that she had no idea she would end up having to make a pre-recorded speech for graduation.

Congratulations! If anyone deserves to be congratulated, it’s the Class of 2020,” she said. “We are truly making history right now—graduating in the midst of a pandemic.”

Talbott said, “To the Class of 2020, I congratulate you and commend you for your scholarship, leadership, and service to James River High School and the Botetourt community.”

He said that he’s confident that Botetourt County Public Schools provided the graduates with a solid foundation for their future successes.

The following department awards were presented:

  • English: Megan Cox

  • Math: Ashlee Woldman

  • Science: Jack Voight

  • Social Studies: Forest Kay

  • Family and Consumer Sciences: Kara Surgeon

  • Agriculture: Andrew Newcomb

  • Art: Mackenzie Post

  • Band: Iain MacFarlane

  • Choral Music: Lauren Fox

  • Foreign Language: Ethan Sandidge

  • Physical Education: Kevin Theimer

  • Business: Jessica Link

The following athletic and activity awards were presented:

  • Yearbook: Megan Cox

  • Scholastic Bowl: Autumn Nester

  • Digital Journalism: Iain MacFarlane

  • Drama: Kaylene Elliot

  • Choir: Lauren Fox

  • Band: Ben Rice (National Marching Award), Mackenzie Seebo (John Philip Sousa Award), Cheyanne Forson (National Color Guard Award), Adaline Bisese (National Color Guard Award)

  • Scarlet Knight Award: Nikole Bevan Kirk, Jessica Abbagail Link, Ryan Camden Powell, Levi Montgomery Walker

  • Sportsmanship Award: Kevin Austin

  • National Honor Society: Kevin Austin, Morgan Bratton, Megan Cox, Kjersten DeHaven, Cheyanne Forson, Lauren Fox, Carolina Gross, Courtney Harless, Owen Krisnitski, Thomas Laughridge, Jessica Link, Owen Marshall, Bryanna Morrell, Olivia Murry, Benjamin Rice, Mackenzie Seebo, Mikayla Stiltner, Jack Voight, Ashlee Woldman

  • Honor Graduates: Garrett Aaron, Brenna Alls, Noah Aylor, Morgan Bratton, Caleb Bryant, Jonathan Church, Megan Cox, Logan Craft, Blake Curtis, Sierra Dean, Kaylene Elliot, Bethany Flint, Jacob Fowler, Meghan Halgren, Courtney Harless, Johanna Jamison, Kyla Jamison, Charles Johns, Forest Kay, Owen Krisnitski, Lakota Lucado, Andrew Lucas, Iain MacFarlane, Owen Marshall, Matthew Martin, Cole Miller, Michael Mize, Andrew Newcomb, Luke Peay, Ryan Powell, Ryan Pagh, Ethan Sandidge, Hunter Sluss, William Sluss, Cade Stanley, Kara Surgeon, Colin Tickner, Zane Weidman, Angela Wenk, Shiloh Whitley, Kelsey Williamson

  • Knight Scholars: Kevin Austin, Jacob Berry, Adaline Bisese, Kjersten DeHaven, Lily Doresett, Cheyanne Forson, Lauren Fox, Carolina Gross, Thomas Laughridge, Grace Lawson, Jessica Link, Brooke Moran, Bryanna Morrell, Olivia Murry, Autumn Nester, Benjamin Rice, Krista Ronk, Mackenzie Seebo, Mikayla Stiltner, Kevin Theimer, Jack Voight, Ashlee Woldman

Post-secondary plans for the James River Class of 2020 consist of the following: 55 graduates plan to attend a two-year community college, 41 graduates plan to enter the workforce, 32 graduates plan on attending a four-year college, four graduates plan on joining the military, three graduates plan on attending a trade school, and two graduates are undecided.

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