Military child Anna Hilburgh delivers valedictorian speech
Under bright lights and from six feet apart, 363 Waynesville High School students graduated during an unprecedented ceremony June 19 at Tiger Stadium – a ceremony which many in the community thought wouldn’t be possible due to the pandemic.
Due to the district implementing risk-mitigating factors to make the gathering safer for all in attendance, this year’s graduation looked different from most, with students spread evenly across the football field and stands half empty from limited guest passes.
Valedictorian Anna Hilburgh addressed the crowd of her peers. She spoke of hope, difficult issues and personal empowerment.
“The world seems like a scarier place today than it did before we went off to spring break,” she told her classmates. “As a senior, we may have lost prom and more, but we should not forget earlier events, like homecoming. We should not forget the relationships we made before school closed, and how we worked to continue those relationships even during quarantine. It is so easy to focus on the negative, but we cannot.”
Hilburgh, who was recognized earlier this year as one of the top 100 students in Missouri, said it is up to the class of 2020 to uphold a mantle of civic responsibility.
“We are the next leaders, teachers, scientists, essential workers, military (service members) and tradespersons in the world, and all of us need to work together and … be the positive change we want to exist,” she said. “We cannot be passive in the creation of our own future.”
Hilburgh said she believes regardless of the adversity a person may face, one must remain optimistic.
“No matter what happens, like with my moving around a lot, you still need to make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in,” she said.
Hilburgh’s father, 3rd Chemical Brigade Commander Col. Adam Hilburgh, said watching his daughter graduate made him and his wife emotional.
“I am incredibly proud of Anna’s accomplishments,” he said. “Like most military children, she has moved to multiple schools and dealt with numerous deployments, exercises and (temporary duty travels). Her resilience has always impressed me. We are Anna’s biggest fans and are excited for her future.”
And Hilburgh’s experience is not uncommon in the district.
About 70 percent of the district’s more than 5,800 students are military-impacted, said Waynesville R-VI Superintendent Brian Henry, and 20 graduates are military-bound this year.
He praised them for their choice to serve.
“We are indebted to their service,” he said. “Every generation, it takes groups of brave young people like these to step up and defend our nation.”
About seven percent of this year’s class – 27 students, to be precise – earned the Presidential Award of Excellence for graduating with a grade-point average of 3.5 or above, according to a spokesperson for the school district.
Henry commended the class of 2020 for what he said was a history of overcoming adversity.
“I was reflecting and … this group, the year they were born was the school year 9/11 occurred for most of them,” he said. “They were born into a difficult time, a time of unrest in our country. Our students have been here and had to persevere through a really tough end of the school year. And I really think that if history tells us anything, (it’s that) out of adversity, we, as Americans, we rise up and even greater things happen. So, I think this class will be a success story.”
Henry thanked the students for their resilience and commented on the $5 million of scholarships they collectively received.
“I feel like we have the greatest group of kids and the best staff in the country,” he said. “Our kids have high expectations, our staff has high expectations, and … our parents support (us) extremely well. So, it doesn’t surprise me they’ve earned that much. They’ve certainly worked hard, and we appreciate all the support we’ve gotten especially in a difficult year.”