The Class of 2020 will go down in history as the first 21st century class to graduate during a pandemic. Despite the transition from in-person to at-home learning and cancellation of sports and school events, these seniors still found a way to come out on top of the GPA list.
Chopticon High School
Emily Baden was one of those students. She’s the valedictorian of Chopticon High School’s 2020 class and has plans to become an immigration lawyer in the future.
The 18-year-old didn’t know she already had her last day of school when the two-week closure for all Maryland schools was announced in March.
“We figured we’d be back in school as soon as those two weeks were over. We didn’t properly say goodbye to each other or to our teachers on that day. We are all upset about not having prom or a normal graduation, but not being able to say goodbye is much worse than losing those two events,” she said.
Although her senior year at Chopticon was shortened, the Mechanicsville resident was able to create a lifelong memory during her junior year as a soccer player.
“We had truly become a family, and I loved going to practices and games with them. My teammates made me laugh every day and I miss being on the field with them. Coach Rob, Coach Bill and Coach Maria were the best coaches we could’ve had and they made my memories of soccer season even better,” she said.
As she heads to Villanova University’s School of Business in the fall, majoring in finance and international business and minoring in Spanish, she’ll bring along with her a lesson she learned in high school: “It’s OK to not be perfect. There will always be someone better or more successful in this world but that doesn’t mean I should be disappointed in myself,” she said.
Chopticon’s salutatorian is Benito D’Angelo.
Great Mills High School
Madison Marigliano is the valedictorian of Great Mills High School, and she said the coronavirus has taught her that it is possible to make the best of disappointing circumstances.
“It’s certainly not something I expected or wanted to happen, but it will definitely make a good story to tell in the future,” the Leonardtown resident said.
Marigliano is a product of Lexington Park Elementary, Chesapeake Public Charter School and Spring Ridge Middle School. She will continue her education at West Virginia University to study clinical psychology and bring along the memory of the fun she had on a nine-hour bus ride to Vermont for a ski trip with her high school friends and a lifelong lesson she learned at Great Mills.
“Work hard, but don’t get lost in your work. Healthy interpersonal relationships are just as important as good grades,” she said.
Nicholas Ashenfelter is the salutatorian.
The STEM academy’s valedictorian at Great Mills High School is Daniel McLawhorn. And when he attends the University of Maryland, College Park as an electrical engineering major, he’ll have a memory of indoor skydiving and playing golf to bring with him.
“I enjoyed learning about the physics concepts, such as drag and terminal velocity, in the act of skydiving and being able to experience the thrill of this activity myself. Hanging out with my friends at such a unique driving range also made my time there so memorable,” the 18-year-old said.
McLawhorn also thanked his physics teacher, Allen Skinner, for organizing the trips and making his learning experiences fun. A lesson the future SpaceX, NASA or Amazon employee learned while in high school is the importance of having a positive attitude and determined mindset when attempting difficult tasks.
“Whether I’m giving a speech, working on a robot or studying for a physics test, I have always felt the need to put forth everything that I have into my work. I have realized that one cannot succeed on intelligence or skill alone. Quiet optimism [not overconfidence] along with hard work are what I have learned to maintain as a part of all of my academic and personal endeavors,” McLawhorn said.
Although the coronavirus has prevented the Leonardtown resident from competing in a robotics competition with his engineering club, he said he and his peers have found ways to make the best of their experiences “knowing that our previous years at Great Mills were filled with multitudes of excitement and joy that have stayed with us in these unusual times.”
The STEM academy’s salutatorians are Emme Staats and Saar Shah.
Leonardtown High School
This year’s valedictorian for Leonardtown High School is Dana Schwalbe of Great Mills, who said she’s learned infinite lessons during her high school career.
“The one that I will always carry with me is that you have to stay true to yourself. If you don’t, you’ll end up in a place you don’t belong, doing something you don’t like. Life is too short for that. It’s much better to embrace who you are and follow your passions. Happiness comes so easily to those who are doing what they love,” Schwalbe said.
The 18-year-old said she is grateful for all the things in her life that were not taken away by the pandemic, like her family, friends and health, as well as the health of her loved ones.
“These are things I overlooked before the virus. Now I am so thankful for my incredible friends, family, and for the time I spent in LHS’s amazing community. I am especially grateful for the world full of opportunities I am heading into — starting with the opportunity to go to my dream college,” she said.
She’ll be headed to University of Virginia in the fall to study chemistry. Her goal is to become a college professor while also conducting medical research.
By the time she reaches that goal, she might still remember her favorite high school memory: “The moment they announced at my junior year pep rally that our class had beat the seniors in the Spirit Week competition. Although winning Spirit Week senior year was fun, too, the unexpectedness of winning junior year is incomparable,” she said.
Leonardtown’s salutatorian is Albert Stumm.
St. Mary’s Ryken High School
Christine Shatrowsky of Friendship is the Xaverian Orator of St. Mary’s Ryken, the school’s equivalent of a valedictorian. Through her four years as a Knight, she learned the importance of living in the moment.
“My junior year was particularly busy, and many days I’d go from school to softball practice to my other extracurricular activities without taking the time to truly enjoy my high school experience. I’ve realized that I need to slow down, live in the moment and appreciate the little things in life,” the 18-year-old said.
Her hard work paid off, because she will be a student at Vanderbilt University majoring in psychology and neuroscience. She has plans to go to medical school to become a neurologist, neurosurgeon or psychiatrist.
During her time at the Leonardtown Catholic school, she remembers a fun time during sporting events: “Chanting ‘2020’ with my classmates at pep rallies and Friday night football games. We’ve actually won our school’s spirit stick two years in a row for having the most class pride in our school.”
The prideful 2020 grad said her class is missing out on many milestones due to the coronavirus.
“There were many things I was looking forward to that were canceled, like my senior prom and softball season,” she said. However, the pandemic has caused her to appreciate her school community. “The faculty has gone above and beyond for us, from delivering personalized yard signs to coordinating graduation ceremonies for each student. Although I have to say goodbye to my time at [St. Mary’s] Ryken in an unconventional way, I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful memories it has given me.”
St. Mary’s Ryken’s class speaker, similar to salutatorian, is Gavin Willis.
The King’s Christian Academy
Mikaila Sullivan, the valedictorian at The King’s Christian Academy, said high school is one of the most fun experiences there is, “but making it fun is up to you. You can either focus on every negative aspect about your school and the work you have to do, or choose to have a positive outlook and make the most of the time you have with your classmates and friends.”
Unfortunately, the pandemic took away almost all of the her senior year fun, like prom, the senior trip, high school retreat, senior pranks and a normal graduation, the 18-year-old said.
“Switching to online learning has had its ups and downs. I find it more convenient to go to school online, but it was definitely a challenge to stay motivated to put in the effort I normally do with my work. I also missed the classroom environment where I got to see my friends everyday,” the Lexington Park resident added.
Though the coronavirus took away some of the fun, it couldn’t take the memories Sullivan made as an Eagle.
“I’ll always remember meeting my friends in freshman year when I came into my new school not knowing anybody. It was so exciting knowing I’d be able to go through all four years of high school with a great group of friends,” she said.
Sullivan will attend the College of Southern Maryland in the fall and plans to obtain a degree in the medical field.
The King’s Christian Academy’s salutatorian is Katelyn Boothe.
Leonard Hall Junior Naval Academy
Samuel Burcham is this year’s valedictorian of the Leonard Hall Junior Naval Academy. He was studying the coronavirus impact in his contemporary issues class in early March before the schools closed down.
“I thought it would just be a small thing that passed the world by. I was wrong, we all were. Society has since undergone a dramatic change. I am dealing the best I can with all the effects of the pandemic,” he said, adding that he tries to view the positives, like lighter traffic, “and that no one I am close to has contracted the virus.”
The Mechanicsville resident was able to snag a memory before the school closures. “My fondest memory was helping younger students with reading, math, and other subjects. One student in particular needed help with reading, and seeing her excel was very rewarding,” the 17-year-old said.
Burcham wants to be an author in the future and after he attends the College of Southern Maryland to study history and English. After attending Benjamin Banneker Elementary, Father Andrew White and Leonard Hall, Burcham learned the importance of respect.
“It’s generally a good idea to be kind and respectful to other people, as it makes it more likely to be kind and respectful in return,” he said.
Leonard Hall’s 2020 salutatorian is Hailey Walk.