Summit Academy Akron Secondary graduate Jacob Saxon and his mother, Deborah Saxon-Riley, view the memory book they received during the school’s 2020 graduation parade.

Amid a historic period marked by a national pandemic and school closures across the nation, 205 Summit Academy seniors earned their high school diplomas this year. In celebrations ranging from parades and drive-in ceremonies to virtual and small-scale commencements, graduates received accolades for their accomplishments and inspirational advice from teachers, staff members and administrators. Meanwhile, in quiet moments of personal reflection, the  2020 graduates looked at the obstacles they overcame, the achievements they made, and the self-confidence they developed to apply their talents and personal attributes towards a better society.

Summit Academy Xenia honored its inaugural graduating class on June 18. During the school’s small, personalized ceremony, graduates and their families arrived at set times during which seniors received their diplomas in hand.

“We were excited to celebrate our first-ever graduating class,” said Summit Academy Xenia Principal Cassy Stidham. “The students, families and staff worked hard for many years to be able to celebrate this accomplishment.”

Summit Academy Transition High School Cincinnati graduate Ciara Hankerson was recognized with the school’s Principal’s Award.

Among Xenia’s 16 graduates, Steven Bales was selected as valedictorian. He has his sights set on working for a year before beginning college. Plans for other students range from attending Wright State University and Western Governors University to launching first careers.

At Dayton Transition High School’s May 22 virtual ceremony, more than 130 locations were logged in for the YouTube live event. Principal Gary Miller expressed how students’ social maturity and emotional growth are indicators of their readiness to step out into the real world and live independently.

“We are all extremely proud of the strides our students have made this year,” Miller said, describing his gratification in seeing students excel in areas that once challenged them.

At Summit Academy Transition High School Cincinnati, graduating senior Ciara Hankerson was recognized with the Principal’s Award. This honor is presented to a student who has grown significantly on social, emotional and academic levels.

Summit Academy Transition High School 2020 Graduate Rawson Reich

“[Ciara] has grown into a mature young adult who has so much empathy and compassion for others,” said Principal Stephen Geresy. “She truly makes me laugh and smile and I’m proud that she is one of our graduates going out in the world, ready.”

Wildwood Preserve Metropark in Toledo set the stage for an outdoor ceremony for Summit Academy Toledo’s graduates Jack Hoehner, Jon Freyburg, Marquise Fields, Ashton Saunders and Keaton Turner-Tower. At the June 16 celebration, senior tables were marked with personalized bags filled with students’ favorite treats.

“The outside venue enabled us to celebrate our seniors while respecting social distancing guidelines. It was a beautiful morning to share this accomplishment,” said Principal Dawn Heck, adding that school Board President Rachel Trumbull arrived with a celebratory graduation sign to accommodate students and families seeking a fresh photo opportunity. “It was a perfect way to honor our seniors at Summit Academy Toledo.”

Summit Academy Parma 2020 graduates toss their caps in unison at their mid-June commencement ceremony.

Sentiment filled the air at Summit Academy Parma’s commencement held at the Bryant and Stratton parking lot where the school’s graduates and families joined in celebration while practicing physical distancing.

“We were so happy we waited until mid-June,” said Principal Gina Pampanini-Tantash, explaining how the decision to delay commencement exercises opened the opportunity to hold the ceremony at the spacious venue.

Donning caps, gowns and 2020 masks handmade from old caps and gowns, the graduates not only received their diplomas, but also commemorative books, personalized cards from the school’s staff members, yard signs sporting student photos and balloon bouquets. Families joined the celebration, which was topped off with refreshments and professional pictures of each student taken by a school staff member as a voluntary gesture.

Meanwhile, Canton Secondary’s 16 graduates were treated to a parade-of-cars celebration rich with emotion as a “Pomp and Circumstance” melody filled the air via speaker. Dressed in caps and gowns, the students received their diplomas and gifts from school staff members as onlookers cried, cheered and rejoiced over the students’ accomplishments.

“This year our senior class had the theme of superheroes and, truly, each of them have lived up to that,” said Principal Lisa Cook. “They kept their eyes on the goal and each graduate was deemed victorious. We are so proud of the Class of 2020. We can’t wait to see how they change our world for the better.”

Summit Academy Youngstown Secondary Valedictorian Ashanti Harris poses for her graduation photos at Mill Creek Park.

For Summit Academy Youngstown Secondary’s 18 graduates, a rainy June 10 ceremony did not damper spirits. At the drive-in commencement celebration held at the school, Valedictorian Ashanti Harris sang the national anthem before a crowd of school board members, educators, administrators, families and classmates. Principal Ashley Martin describes her school’s 2020 graduates as peers who grew together over the years by discovering their common ground.

Meanwhile, a parade of cars – each occupied by Summit Academy Akron Secondary teachers, staff members and administrators – swirled its way to graduating seniors’ homes. The May 15 ceremony-on-wheels celebrated graduates with signs, memory books, T-shirts and fanfare. “One senior called crying to tell us how thankful he was for the parade and would remember it forever,” Principal Ralph Grant described.

Grace United Methodist Church accommodated Summit Academy School for Alternative Learners Warren Secondary’s 16 graduates with a venue for personal ceremonies for each student and family.

Summit Academy School for Alternative Learners Warren Secondary provided its 16 graduating seniors with individual, 45-minute ceremonies. Held at Grace United Methodist Church on June 16 and 17, Warren Secondary’s two-day ceremony began with a processional for each student while “Pomp and Circumstance” infused the atmosphere . An invocation by Principal Erin Bradley followed, during which she reminded students and their families that “Summit Academy has just been a small part of their journey, now they get to enter the world with the necessary skills to become successful adults … I am excited to see where their paths lead them next,” she said.

Each Warren senior was presented a crystal, used as an analogy for reflection – on how the students helped others, on how they demonstrated life qualities, on how special they are, and on how all situations have different sides to consider, explained Performance Coach Carey Anderson. At the ceremony, she reminded the graduates to “always reflect and shine light on the positive.”

Senior Haley Criddle added a special touch to the Warren ceremony with her videotaped performance of Pink’s “A Million Dreams.”

During the Warren graduation, seniors presented their loved ones with thank-you notes and roses and together, as families, they enjoyed a collaboratively created speech comprised of excerpts from each graduate. Fittingly, Valedictorian Jessica Peterson shared parting words meant to stick. “There are no goodbyes for us,” she said. “Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.”

From Lorain to Columbus to Middletown, the Summit Academy Class of 2020 graduates have shown they have the tools, determination and strength to continue their journeys, no matter how difficult they may be at times, said Summit Academy Management CEO John Guyer.

Guyer reminds them to never stop learning and to move forward, drawing from their academic and personal experiences over the years.

“This is the first day of your new beginning,” he said. “Make a difference in our world.”