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Highlands Celebrates 52nd Commencement


After extensive, careful planning to ensure a safe, social distanced in-person ceremony during the Covid-19 pandemic, Highlands High School celebrated the Senior Class of 2020 at the 52nd Annual Commencement Ceremony on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 at 6:00pm in Highlands High School gymnasium. Parents/guardians were social distanced in three separate areas of the school building and the ceremony was live-streamed for viewing.


Wearing their keepsake Rams logo masks, seniors entered the gym to the familiar Pomp and Circumstance. The Pledge of Allegiance was delivered by senior class vice president Miss Rachel Marie Blackburn. After the National Anthem was played, the Invocation was given by senior class secretary Miss Kara Marie Layhew. High School Principals Mr. Charles B. Mort and Mr. Shawn M. Bennis introduced the guests on the stage and welcomed those in attendance.


Superintendent Dr. Monique Mawhinney delivered a heartfelt message to the seniors, commending them for their resiliency and how they rose above the challenges and disappointments they faced during these last few months of the pandemic.


Class president Mr. Christopher Cole Ratliff presented the Class Gift, a donation to Allegheny Valley Hospital's employee assistance fund.  Following the presentation, Mr. Thomas Karl-Heinz Bender was officially recognized as the Class of 2020 Salutatorian. He plans to attend Penn State University / New Kensington to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. Mr. William J. Gustafson was announced as the ValedictorianHe will also attend Penn State University / Behrend to study mechanical engineering / plastics. School Board Vice President Mr. Gene Witt accepted the books chosen by Mr. Bender and Mr. Gustafson that will be placed in the High School library in their honor. 


Also recognized in memoriam with a moment of silence was classmate Matthew Watts, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 14. Long-time friend, classmate and neighbor, Mr. Christopher J. Thimons, who was selected to deliver the traditional Commencement Address, spoke of Matthew's courageous battle with cancer. He encouraged classmates to remember Matthew's story of kindness, happiness and positivity through adversity as they each pursue their own road ahead after graduation.


After the Address, Mr. Mort certified that the members of the Class of 2020 met all requirements for graduation, Superintendent Dr. Monique Mawhinney accepted the class for graduation, and School Board president Mrs. Bobbie Neese confirmed the granting of diplomas to the 160 members of the senior class. Parents/guardians were able to enter the gymnasium in about groups of 30 people at a time to see their seniors receive their diplomas. 


The ceremony concluded with the Benediction by senior class treasurer Miss Georgia Victoria Peters, the Alma Mater, and the validation of graduates by Dr. Mawhinney. The graduates moved their tassels on their caps to the left, over their hearts.


The Highlands High School Class of 2020 comprised 160 seniors. In a self-reported student survey of 110 seniors, 76% are pursuing post-secondary education (college, nursing/medical, trade school); 5% have an apprenticeship or employment; 4% are going into the military; and 15% are undecided. 

Senior Class Sponsors are Mrs. Sherry Armstrong & Mrs. Melinda Eckenrod.
The Commencement music recordings featured the HHS Concert Band directed by Mr. Matthew Beresik, and the HHS Honors Choir, directed by Mr. Michael Zeiler.




 HHS Commencement 2020 Program, List of Graduates, Future Plans, Scholarships, Honors & Awards


View the official recording of the Highlands High School 52nd Annual Commencement on the Highlands YouTube Channel at