STARK COUNTY, Ohio — For the 435 Jackson High School seniors graduating at the Robert Fife Stadium, the song Pop and Circumstance in the background has more meaning now than in past years. The 2021 senior class has had to deal with very difficult circumstances.
“I don’t think it’s exactly what I thought my senior year would be like but Jackson has worked so hard to give us every opportunity and to provide us with everything,” said senior Grace Sykes.
It was a year filled with a mix of in-person and online learning.
“I was completely online, so it was harder for me to get out and go to class,” said senior Allan Cao.
A year, also, filled with masks, social distancing and quarantine.
“People can quarantine unexpectedly,” said senior Zachary Charlick. “I’m hoping that people weren’t quarantined to not celebrate their graduation with us today.”
While the unknowns for a high school senior typically revolve around what the next chapter after high school will bring, they also had to wonder if their 2020-2021 school year would allow a class trip, a prom and graduation, just some rites of passage that COVID-19 took from so many students nationwide.
“The challenge that we faced, we faced them together and we came out on top,” said the principal of Jackson High School, Jeff Kracker.
But the students didn’t just get through the school year, many thrived. Out of 15,000 students nationwide, Jackson’s graduating class has eight National Merit Scholarship finals.
Kracker said it’s a district record.
“It’s the most we’ve ever had,” he said. “Talk about kids that put in hours in the books, in the summertime taking course works. All of them are very well rounded in the athletics, in the arts, lots of community service hours.”
The National Merit Scholarship is a prestigious award only given to a certain number of students in each state. It’s based on test scores, essay responses, teacher recommendations and more.
The eight finalists are Allan Cao, Zachary Charlick, Ryan Farneth, Lauren Hall, Nagappranav Nagajothi, Dorothy Stuhlmiller, Grace Sykes and Matthew Visco.
“It’s supposed to help you look good on college applications while also providing you with an extra opportunity to earn scholarship money,” said Sykes.
But it’s not the scholarships, accolades and the awards that the packed stadium of friends, family, teachers and staff are most proud of watching the graduating class earn their degrees, it’s the resilience of the seniors.
“Just being able to finish through this tough year,” said Cao.
Kracker said resiliency is a trait he hopes the students will carry with them long after the seniors walk across the stage and into their next chapter of life.
“If this year has taught them anything, it’s that they can do it. They can adjust, they can pivot and they can still come up on the other side,” said Kracker.