Through an April 24 Zoom meeting that included the five campus counselors, principal Allen Whitten (third from left, top row) announces his plans for the May 28 virtual graduation ceremony and how the 12 Class of 2020 valedictorians will be honored. In the past, Whitten usually summoned seniors to his office to confirm their top of the class status, but because of COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders, he opted to make the announcement online. (Photo by Accolade photo editor Megan Shin)
Since he’s been principal at Sunny Hills, Allen Whitten would summon seniors to his office to confirm their valedictorian status and congratulate them on their accomplishment.
But that couldn’t happen this school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the district’s decision to close all of its campuses to students.
So last week, Whitten decided to instead schedule a Zoom meeting April 24 at 11:30 a.m. with the Class of 2020 valedictorians — all 12 of them — sending them the Zoom invitation link via email April 22 and stating in that email he had good news for them.
“Congratulations to all of you for your years of hard work, late nights, amount of sacrifice, and determination,” Whitten announced at the beginning of the Zoom session after taking attendance. “Because [you did this] especially at Sunny Hills High School, one of the best schools in the country, you are the elite of the elite.
“You are the 2020 valedictorians. Congratulations, everybody.”
Afterward, all five of the counselors joined Whitten in applauding to honor the top of the class: five male and six female seniors, all of whom smiled with glee. Senior Daniel Shim, the sixth male valedictorian, wasn’t able to join the Zoom session until after Whitten’s announcement.
The “good news” came as a pleasant surprise to some of the seniors.
“Although I had straight A’s, I knew there were other specific requirements the school looked for, and I was not expecting anything,” senior Stacy Kim said.
In past years, valedictorians usually either gave a speech together or school officials selected two or three speeches that stood out to them. Last school year, the Class of 2019 set a school record with 18 valedictorians — six of them ended up being selected to pair up to make three speeches total.
However, because of the likelihood of a virtual ceremony in May, Whitten came up with another option.
He explained to them in the 20-minute Zoom meeting that if any of the valedictorians are interested in making speeches, they must audition by recording their speeches on their smartphone by Friday, May 1, and sending it to the principal’s email address. The valedictorians can also choose to share the delivery of the speech together or in smaller groups to cover for the limited amount of time allotted within the virtual ceremony.
The best two or three speeches will then be included in the graduation slideshow to be streamed on May 28 at 3 p.m.
“I’ll definitely be writing a speech,” senior Jiwon Hur said. “I have always been told that I am good at school because I take after my grandpa, and since I cannot spend time with my grandparents in [South] Korea, I feel like this is the best gift I could offer them.”
Additionally, senior Cecilia Lee plans on submitting her words for a chance to be included in the virtual graduation ceremony.
“I feel like not only is it a rare opportunity to speak at a graduation, but since it is happening in even odder circumstances, I feel like it would be interesting to see,” Lee said.
However, senior Hasan Mirza does not plan on participating.
“I am dealing with a very irregular sleep pattern and lack of focus at home so I will not be writing one,” Mirza said.
Besides Hur, Kim, Lee, Mirza and Shim, the other Class of 2020 valedictorians are: Audrey Gass, Michael Jiang, Samuel Kho, Jaeeun Lee, Sunghee Lee, Peter Park and Andrew Tran.