Showing endurance, flexibility, perseverance and a sense of decorum few others have been called upon to muster in their young academic careers, the Class of 2020 has made history. The two public high schools serving the Wellington community graduated a combined 1,334 students in this pandemic-altered year filled with unique challenges.
Principal Cara Hayden at Wellington High School said that the school is incredibly proud of its 635 members in the Class of 2020. While the traditional graduation ceremony at the South Florida Fairgrounds was canceled, a virtual ceremony was held online Monday, June 1, featuring speeches from valedictorian Max LeGates and salutatorian Hersh Prakash.
“Our seniors were instrumental in our transition to remote learning,” Hayden said. “Their focus and maturity helped our teachers maintain continuity in the classroom. They responded to the loss of several senior traditions with kindness and promoted the most innovating ideas. Max and Hersh are wonderful representatives of the grace and maturity demonstrated by our senior class.”
Principal Darren Edgecomb at Palm Beach Central High School said that his 699 graduates rose to the occasion. “Of course, it has been an unprecedented year, and our seniors have led the way,” he said. “It is due to their endurance, tenacity, intelligence and confidence that we were able to persevere.”
Palm Beach Central’s class was led by valedictorian Jacob Fingeret and salutatorian Ian Mutschler. “Jacob and Ian are extremely popular, and they helped to lead the way in the Class of 2020,” Edgecomb said. “The class as a whole rose to the occasion, and these two phenomenal young men were truly leaders.”
Wellington High School
Valedictorian Max LeGates
Max LeGates lives with his parents and has two older brothers. The oldest one graduated from Roanoke College two years ago, and the middle brother just graduated from Franklin & Marshall College. LeGates starts in the fall at the University of Florida, studying environmental science.
LeGates decided to strive for valedictorian when he discovered that he was ranked first after his freshman year.
“I wanted to keep up my hard work and keep my position,” he said. “There were no defining moments because I never knew if I would stay valedictorian, but I worked harder and harder every year to keep my position.”
LeGates graduated with a grade point average of 4.0 and an honors point average of 5.40. In the time before the virus hit, he ran varsity cross country since his sophomore year and participated in the Leadership Grow program. “I was also junior and senior class treasurer and involved heavily in student government,” LeGates added.
LeGates found virtual schooling to be challenging. “Transitioning to online learning was quite difficult for me. I’m not used to learning online. The hardest thing for me was trying to stay awake for first period while still lying in my bed! A typical day is very much like real school, except lonely and more boring, but I got used to it and still tried to succeed.”
LeGates is optimistic about the future. “I know the world is going through a tough time right now, but we are all working together, and we will come out stronger,” he said. “I’m excited to start my four years at UF.”
He urged his fellow graduates to never stop chasing their dreams. “If you work hard and keep your eye on the prize, you can accomplish anything,” LeGates said. “My advice for future seniors is to focus on school but also ensure that you have a good time as well. Don’t get caught up in being the best or else you’ll lose yourself in the process.”
Wellington High School
Salutatorian Hersh Prakash
Hersh Prakash completed his high school career with a 3.93 grade point average and an honors point average of 5.55. He lives with his parents and his sister, who is two years older.
It was while attending his sister’s graduation when he was a sophomore that he decided to try for valedictorian or salutatorian.
“I was sitting in the auditorium with maybe 4,000 people and 600 kids who had all worked extremely hard to get through school and graduate,” Prakash remembered. “I saw the salutatorian give a speech, and I got chills. I knew I would be salutatorian or valedictorian because I wanted to leave my mark at Wellington High School.”
Last year, Prakash played soccer. He is a member of the National Honor Society and a math tutor. He works part time as a loan processor and will soon get his real estate license.
During the virtual school era, a typical day began at 8 a.m. “I join the Google meets for my classes. In the afternoon, I go for a run and study for the real estate exam. I go to sleep around 11 p.m.,” he said.
Prakash will be attending the University of Florida where he will major in business and real estate.
“I am extremely optimistic about the future because the country is never going to stop,” Prakash said. “Kids, such as myself, want to see the world be a better place. I recommend trying to have a positive mindset as a whole. That way, current events won’t affect us so much.”
Prakash is also excited to be voting for the first time this year. “I am extremely excited to have a voice and experience being in a voting booth,” he said. “It is one vote, but one vote matters.”
Palm Beach Central High School
Valedictorian Jacob Fingeret
Jacob Fingeret has a 15-year-old brother and a sister who just turned 11. He graduates with a grade point average of 4.0 and an honors point average of 5.5. He has been rated at the top of his class since he was a freshman.
“When I learned that, I thought, ‘Maybe if I try, I can maintain this,’” remembered Fingeret, who will be attending the University of Florida as a pre-med major.
Before the virus hit, he played soccer and water polo, and he served as treasurer of the National Honor Society and a member of the history, environmental and social studies honor societies. Along the way, he also found time to work at Wawa.
The challenge Fingeret noticed most with the switch to online schooling was the workload.
“It was an interesting change,” he said. “I felt like we started doing more work. Maybe it was because the teachers gave assignments, and you didn’t have any time at school, but definitely adjusting to keep your schedule and to keep up with everything was challenging.”
To his fellow seniors, Fingeret suggested that they “expect the unexpected.”
“Not everything is going to go your way. Assess the situation and adapt to it. So long as you have air in your lungs, you are probably doing pretty good,” he said.
A typical home-schooling day for Fingeret included a lot of learning.
“I get up at 8:30 a.m. and do Google meets for my classes,” he said. “I learn calculus that I may or may not understand. The computer doesn’t bother me much. I take college classes that were online before corona. At 3 p.m. I exercise, then do homework until 9 p.m. From 9 p.m. to midnight it is free time for family time or Netflix, then bedtime.”
As for next year’s seniors, Fingeret’s advice is: “Always work as hard on schoolwork as you can but remember that friends are most important. It all ends pretty fast.”
Palm Beach Central High School
Salutatorian Ian Mutschler
Ian Mutschler lives with his parents and has two sisters — an older sister attending college in Jacksonville and a 15-year-old younger sister at home. He will be attending Florida State University, where he plans to major in meteorology.
Mutschler graduated with a 3.9474 grade point average and a 5.3662 honors point average.
“After my sophomore year, I saw I had a shot and thought it would be pretty cool. I wanted to go for it,” explained Mutschler about being named salutatorian.
Of course, he also got some parental encouragement during his academic journey. “My mom pushed me along the way,” he said.
Mutschler was a member of the National Honor Society, active in the Student Government Association and works as a lifeguard at the Wellington Aquatics Complex.
One of the challenges of switching to online schooling was the “bizarre transition of trying to learn calculus over a computer screen. It is not easy. I’m more of a face-to-face person,” Mutschler said.
Mutschler remains optimistic about the future. “I’m confident that there will be a vaccine or some kind of herd immunity,” he said. “I am already seeing signs of re-opening, and that gives me hope. I think that maybe in a few months or a year, things will be back to normal.”
Mutschler offered some advice to his fellow graduates. “Having a high number is great, but don’t forget your friends and the people you meet,” he said. “They are much more important than a number. It is cool to be able to speak at graduation or to have a bunch of cords, but don’t forget your friends. They are more important than your GPA — and enjoy things while they last because, as we have seen, it can all be pulled away at any time.”
To those who will be seniors next year, Mutschler suggested that they may not want to follow his exact example. “Don’t kill yourself like I did,” he said. “I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it; but focus on relationships. That is going to be what builds your character more than anything.”