HOWE - Nobody knew that it would end like this.

Only a couple of months ago, it seemed that the COVID-19 pandemic might make a May graduation ceremony out of the question.

But on May 29, with limited seating and social distancing measures in place, Howe High School seniors got the commencement ceremony they’d worked for their entire school careers.

“I would like to recognize them for their response to this unprecedented historical event that has turned our world upside down,” Principal Phil Kempson said. “They have managed to adapt and overcome a situation that frankly could have easily got the best of them.”

Salutatorian Paetyn Ford said writing a speech for the ceremony was one of the most difficult things she’s ever done because she wanted it to be perfect.

She noted that the majority of her classmates had attended classes together in Howe since kindergarten. They had all grown to become a family, including those who moved to the area later.

“Our last year together has abruptly come to an end,” she said. “Although we have always been warned that time flies, especially during our senior year, nobody could have warned us about this devastating time that we have encountered.”

Ford thanked teachers, school officials and families for working hard to make this year special even though students missed out on many traditional senior activities.

After recognizing several individuals by name, Ford asked her classmates to stand and show their appreciation. She ended by noting that the unexpected challenges they were forced to confront this year would create tremendous opportunities in their futures.

“Never let the options in front of you blind you to the possibilities that surround you,” she said. “Do not let this temporary situation become our permanent identities.”

Valedictorian Molly Wilson also thanked teachers and families for the hard work and sacrifices they made to help them.

She also cautioned her fellow graduates that the time had come to further their lives as adults. While doing that, they would likely have to combat obstacles they had ever faced before.

Wilson invoked an analogy comparing a carrot, egg and coffee beans when faced with boiling water.

A carrot, she said, gets limp and shrinks in the hot water while the egg becomes hardened inside. She encouraged her classmates to instead be like the coffee beans, which become something much better after going through the water.

“We will have to find ourselves and find the courage to choose happiness, even if it may be difficult,” she said. “So as we go into the world after tonight, Class of 2020, I challenge you to live your life welcoming adversity as an opportunity to grow by finding the good in everything you experience, and to always remember to be the coffee.”