CLARKSVILLE — "The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”

Addressing the Clarksville High School Class of 2020, Principal Roshea Phillips opened with that popular quote from the Disney film “Mulan.” As Phillips told the assembled students on Saturday morning, their senior year didn’t exactly go as they would have hoped.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has kept students out of the classroom since March, also kept the seniors from making many precious memories. But as Phillips told the students, their resilience in the face of such adversity has been remarkable.

She likened the graduates to the lotus flower, a plant that grows in dark and murky areas. Once it blooms, though, it is bright and unbothered.

“If you know anything about this class, and I know you do because you raised them and you taught them, they are unbothered by everything, including Covid-19,” Phillips said. “Sometimes we enter a season that is dark and unpleasant. One thing we learned this season, if you didn’t already know, is things don’t always go as planned. We found ourselves overwhelmed with uncertainties, disappointment and robbed of creating lasting memories. … However, though the seasons have been low, today we end on a high.”

Phillips spoke of how proud of the graduates she is, and she shared some of their many accomplishments.

In total, the Class of 2020 finished the year with more than 280 college credit hours, with more than half the graduating class earning college credits. Roughly 80% of graduates will be attending college in the fall or spring and have accumulated more than $250,000 in scholarship funds.

Of course, it was not just the faculty and staff of Clarksville High who beamed with pride at the graduation ceremony, but families too. For Pandora Forte, mother of Darrell Forte, the ceremony was a bittersweet moment.

“It was sad, but I was so, so proud of him,” Pandora Forte said after the ceremony. “I was reminded of his childhood, all the struggles and all the years.”

Darrell Forte will start his collegiate career at Paris Junior College before transferring to Texas A&M, his mother said.

As Clarksville valedictorian Deaveonne Jackson told her classmates, it’s going to take a lot more than a virus to stop the class of 2020 from reaching their goals.

“Look what we’ve overcome,” she said. “Proof it takes a lot more than a deadly virus to take us down. … Fellow graduates, I want you to know what a gift you have to be as prepared as we are.”

Salutatorian Makayla Moore urged younger students to cherish their time together.

She talked about a prank the senior class planned but never got the chance to carry out where, on a secret cue over the school’s intercom, they would all leave campus for the rest of the day.

In the end, she said, the plan ended up carrying a bit of irony with it, as they were ultimately forced to leave the school before the end of the year, and didn’t return.

“Be courageous, step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to live your life because remember, time waits for no one,” Moore said. “To the underclassmen, my biggest piece of advice is to enjoy high school while you can, because it goes by fast and you don’t get it back after it’s gone.”

Cleveland Thomas, an associate minister at St. James Baptist Church and himself a graduate of Clarksville High, told the graduates to spread their wings and fly, but to always be mindful of the choices they make.

“As you continue through your life, the journey that you will take, don’t turn back and say I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve,” Thomas said. “Because for those of us who did graduate and did not succeed, we say those words. … Wilding out is going to get old and tired, and you’re going to watch things pass you by. So I’m going to encourage you now, and I wish you the best, because you deserve it. You put the work in. … But the choices in life are really up to you. Don’t squander them.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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