Burke High School's class of 2020 has overcome more challenges in one year than many students experience throughout their entire scholastic journey.

From a tornado destroying their school building late last summer, postponing the start of school, to COVID-19 abruptly ending their senior year in the spring, Burke's class of 2020 persevered through a lot of traumatic experiences. Although the historic obstacles cancelled many events and put an end to the school year in March, nothing was going to stop 23 Burke graduates from uniting on Saturday to take part in a memorable graduation held in the Burke football field.

Mandy Frank, assistant volleyball coach and third-grade teacher at Burke School, served as the guest speaker for the graduation ceremony and delivered an inspirational speech to the seniors who she calls the “most unique” graduating class from Burke High School.

“It’s no secret that this group of individuals entered the world during 9/11 and now, will graduate during a pandemic. But not by first, beginning their senior year with one of Mother Nature’s most unique and treacherous features,” Frank said in front of the large crowd gathered in the football field. “There is no doubt that these events will and have shaped your lives.”

As a coach and teacher who helped Burke seniors grow and develop into adults over the years, Frank urged the 23 graduates to follow their dreams and take action when the world needs it most. Frank compiled a top 10 list of advice for the graduates to consider in their future endeavors.

Among the pieces of advice, Frank stressed the importance of staying true to oneself and proudly pursuing the life that each graduate dreams of.

“Today, I'm giving you a pregame speech on the rest of your lives,” Frank said. “No. 1: it is plastered all over graduation cards, and it is the good old saying ‘follow your dreams.’ It really is that simple. Keep in mind, your dreams don't have to shoot for the sky. Your dreams can be simple. Your dreams need to be you.”

When Burke senior Lacey Person was just about to finish her junior year, the thought of spending her final year inside the Burke School with her classmates brought on plenty of excitement. Hanging out with friends after class, putting in countless hours playing sports and enjoying a laid back academic schedule is how Person envisioned her senior year.

However, it was far from how it panned out. Starting with a delayed school start after the EF-1 tornado ripped through parts of the school building, and concluding two months early due to the coronavirus pandemic, nothing went as planned from start to finish. Despite the trials and tribulations Person and her classmates found a way to rise above the unforeseen challenges and enjoy their final chapter of high school. As the class valedictorian, Person spoke to her fellow classmates, and thanked them for the memories they have made together.

“It’s been one wild year, and it didn’t go the way I could have ever imagined. Anything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong,” Person said. “We started with a tornado, and ended with a pandemic. But we had a whole lot of fun in between those events.”

Through the support of the community, Burke’s school building managed to get enough repairs for the school year to kick off in late August.

Just as they did following the devastating tornado that ravaged through Burke’s school building, the Burke community rallied around the high school seniors during Saturday’s graduation ceremony, which brought around 200 supporters helping the class of 2020 cap off a historic year.

In the midst of the tumultuous year the class of 2020 endured, Person said it helped her develop valuable life lessons she will take with her in the future. As the group of Burke graduates hugged their parents and said their final goodbyes to their teachers, Person reminded each of her classmates how resilient they were this past school year, which is a life lesson she hopes will come in handy down the road.

“If there is one thing I have learned from this year is that sometimes you just have to stop worrying about the end result, and appreciate the journey,” Person said. “I’m glad I went through this year with my classmates. We are stronger because of this year, and we are now prepared for the challenges we might face later on in life.”