The Vinton County High School 2020 Graduation Program was held Sunday afternoon, May 17, in drive-by style on the high-school bus circle.

School-district leaders were forced to adapt the program due to the state’s Stay-at-Home Order and the prohibitions of events involving large crowds. The drive-by event replaced a program which would have been conducted the previous Friday evening in the high school gymnasium. The drive-by program was also streamed live on the district’s Facebook page and was broadcast live on WKOV (96.7 FM) radio.

The program was hosted by Principal JJ Milliken, who called the graduation event a team effort and one the graduates will always remember. The 2020 Class is led by Valedictorians: Rylee Fee, Alyssa McKinniss, Abrianna McManis, Owen Salyer, Jade Kempton-Trainer, and Salutatorian Lexi Walker. Overall, the class has 160 members, 33 National Honor Society members, 28 honor diplomas, and there were several students with earning individual awards and scholarships.

Milliken stated the 2020 national-emergency pandemic crisis has changed how the high school does business and there were many unique adjectives found in his e-mails from students describing the situation, such as “difficult, crazy, strange, frustrating, challenging, tough, unique, unprecedented, uncertain, trying, and tumultuous.”

“A quick search of my e-mails found all these words describing the times we are going through,” he said.

Milliken also told the students to remember the power of perspective as they go out and begin their lives and make their choices. The principal stated the Class of 2020 is graduating amid a health crisis pandemic, but has much to be proud of based on their careers.

As examples, Milliken mentioned among others, the amazing accomplishments of Owen Salyer and Joey Dover, who earned their Ambassador National Torch Award as Business and Professional students. Owen placed second in the National Cyber Security Competition and third at the state for the Network Design Team. The Ohio University Cutler Scholarship award went to Nick Pittman while the Alice Lloyd College (KY) Scholarship Appalachian Leadership team award went to Okala Reffett. Additionally, Rylee Fee has received a cross country and track scholarship from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Milliken also recognized those students enlisting in the United States military.

It was also a good year for the high school sports teams, winning Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division Titles and other post-season awards. Those teams are Lady Vikings Cross Country (three TVC titles two district titles (one regional trophy and one runner-up) and state qualifiers and as a team last year); Lady Viking Basketball (three TVC Ohio titles); Viking Basketball (two TVC Ohio, one district championship) and Volleyball (one TVC title).

The ceremony also included the reading of the class roll, called by Assistant Principal Josh Kirkpatrick. Each graduate rode up in a vehicle and exited to receive his or her diploma.


As always, a key part of the program was the student speakers and their messages during this historic time. The speakers were:

 Lexi Walker, Salutatorian

“It’s finally here, the day we have been dreaming of for years, graduation! The day that celebrates all the hard work we have put in the past 13 years to get to this point! I have learned an important life lesson from this virus, don’t take anything for granted and enjoy the moment instead of hurrying into the future. I’m very upset that we didn’t get to have spring sports, the musical, prom, senior pranks, anything that anyone was looking forward to. However, I am very thankful for the memories that we have made together. I would like to thank the community for their tremendous support and prayers to the Class of 2020. As Dr. Seuss once said, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’; but it’s honestly really hard not to cry right now.” 

Rylee Fee, Valedictorian

“I can imagine setting up high school graduation during a pandemic is not an easy task! As I have gotten older, I have realized how truly special this place is. As many of you know I have spent most of my time in high school running. A lot of you have probably seen me running around town in McArthur or down a backroad and if you haven't seen me, well your dog definitely has and probably chased me down the road at least once. I have run over a thousand miles here in Vinton County and I have loved every one. I feel so lucky to be able to call such a beautiful place home. To live through a pandemic during our senior year of high school was the last thing many of us expected but it made me look at my life and society from a different perspective. It has taught me to never take anything for granted. As I travel to the big city of Chicago within the coming months for college, I will never forget the place that made me into who I am today.”

Jade Kempton-Trainer, Valedictorian 

“I’m incredibly grateful to be standing here today. Recently, we have all encountered numerous hardships that we didn’t see coming. Although these things affect everyone across the globe, seniors have been hit hard because many things we’ve looked forward to for years have been canceled or restricted. I know every one of us wishes with all of our being that things were different and that we could spend these moments together, with each other. But unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. As my calculus teacher, Jon Lindner, always stressed to us, event plus response equals outcome, and this is just another instance where we determine what we gain from the obstacle at hand. I challenge you all to see this event as an opportunity to become better and know that things can and will improve. But for now, we can create our positivity and foster our desire to do great things so that when this ends we can begin the next chapter of our lives with our hearts and eyes open.”

Abrianna McManis, Valedictorian 

“Today is the day. It’s the day that we’ve all been dreading because we’ll miss the memories, yet looking forward to, because we’re entering a new season in our lives. Yes, this isn’t the graduation ceremony we were hoping and planning for, but regardless, it’s still a time to celebrate our accomplishments. We started the year strong, having so much fun and loving our senior year. So many memories were made, and we were excited that this was our last year of high school. Little did we know, a pandemic would happen and the best part of our senior year would be taken away from us. Despite losing the end of our senior year, we have pushed through the pain and been supported by our wonderful community. With that, I once again am so proud of every one of you for staying strong and hopeful, and I’m beyond thankful for everyone who has encouraged us at this time. Although this time has been difficult, and we have wanted it to end, it’s taught us something very important we can take with us throughout life. It’s taught us to cherish every moment. You have persevered and made it here today, and you inspire me so much.”

Alyssa McKinniss, Valedictorian 

“It seems unbelievable. Today is the day we’ve been waiting for since freshman year. Of course, this isn’t the graduation we expected, but we are graduating, and all of our hard work cannot be denied us now. Life is just like a story, our story, and just like a story, there are chapters. We’ve just finished one chapter, and are about to start another. We’re all about to go our separate ways, but before we do, I want us to remember all the friendships, the personal accomplishments, the life-long memories that will leave a smile on our faces every time they come to mind. Those things you can take from here wherever you go, even though we’re all going in different directions now. I want to thank our faculty and staff because we have such amazing people working in Vinton County. Life isn’t easy all the time and there are a lot of tough times ahead, but there are also a lot of blessings waiting for us just ahead that God has placed in advance.”

Owen Salyer, Valedictorian 

“I would like to begin by thanking those people who assisted me in becoming the person I am. Without these important people in my life, it would be impossible for me to stand and address you today. Thank you for supporting me in any venture which I pursued, scholastic or otherwise. Many of the successes which I have achieved would not be possible were it not for your advice and inspiration. To all of my teachers, counselors, and the administration: Thank you for your constant devotion to ensure that all students are granted opportunities to learn and grow. The autumn and winter of 1776 were low points for the Continental Army: on September 15, British troops seized control of New York City; on November 16, the British captured Fort Washington in what one historian has deemed ‘the most disastrous defeat of the entire war.’ Congress abandoned the capital of Philadelphia, and American forces dwindled to 5,000 troops. On December 19, 1776, the enlightenment philosopher, Thomas Paine, legendary for his work entitled Common Sense, published a lesser-known pamphlet titled The American Crisis. The opening line of that work became a watchword for the Colonials. That opening sentence reads as follows: ‘These are the times that try men’s souls...’ I believe this message which Paine conveyed is a message which rings true for us. The troops fighting in the Revolutionary War faced the unknown, and the citizens of a young and independent republic faced the unknown. My fellow graduates and I now face the unknown – not only in terms of the pandemic which threatens our world but in terms of our futures. While these difficult times have cut short our senior year of high school, what effect the coronavirus pandemic will have on our society in the future is unknown and unknowable. Neither can we predict the events which will succeed our graduation this afternoon. We can control only those things which we can change through our actions. Blindly treading into unknown circumstances is one of the most difficult and constant tasks which we will pursue in our lives. But one thing is known – through strength, willpower, and determination, we shall prevail. And that triumph will be glorious.”