St. Augustine High’s pandemic valedictorian plans to work for the CDC

Seniors at SAHS received diplomas in a subdued ceremony

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – There was no pomp and circumstance. No tossing of caps in the air Wednesday night.

It was a no-frills graduation for this year’s seniors at St. Augustine High School.

But it was an actual in-person commencement ceremony. There was nothing virtual about it.

They wrapped up their high school education in groups of 10 with the stadium scoreboard all lit up with 2020.

There was no music. No commencement speeches, but no one seemed to care. They were just thrilled to have made it.

“I am so glad I finally got to the point to finally graduate and it was worth the work. Worth all the hard work and it pays off. I’m really happy,” said graduate Selma Kayan.

“I expected to have like a normal graduation have a normal senior year, ya know, we didn’t really get to say bye to our friends but everyone’s trying to make it up and it’s been a ride,” said graduate Rachel Banta.

“It’s better than not having an actual graduation ceremony at all because it was really sad to hear that we weren’t gonna have any and now they’ve actually pulled something together for us to actually be able to walk the stage and get our diploma makes it a lot better,” said Hannah Beregsasy.

They walked the stage and received their diploma got an elbow bump with the principal and a photo. Then they got pictures with family and friends.

“I’m happy to be here but I kinda wish it was like an actual graduation with like everyone and not having to do groups. But I mean it is nice to actually have something to celebrate the seniors,” Hala Asadi said.

“It’s nice that they’re actually doing something instead of just giving us a pat on the back and doing a video,” said Valedictorian Caeli Benyacko.

Benyacko said the next step is to head to Emory University to major in epidemiology and eventually work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a plan that took shape before the novel coronavirus derailed her final year of high school.

“The pandemic sort of solidified the career goal,” Benyacko said.

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