Owensboro Innovation Academy held its commencement ceremony Sunday evening to celebrate the graduation of its 2021 class. Held at Owensboro Christian Church, 84 students from Apollo, Owensboro and Daviess County high schools accepted their diplomas and took the first steps toward the rest of their lives.
While much of the commencement ceremony was focused on the strength and perseverance of the 2021 class, OIA Principal Beth Benjamin took a moment to acknowledge the hardships faced by the students and her staff during the tumultuous 2020-21 school year.
“I’m so happy we have the opportunity to actually be in person for this event,” Benjamin said, adding that it was difficult to write her speech ahead of this year’s graduation ceremony and that she was “selfishly” still upset she didn’t get to see her students in person every day.
However, Benjamin commended the class for its strong academic achievements over the last few years, citing successes such as the class’s composite ACT scores ranking second-highest in the region among high school students.
Moreover, 68% of the OIA would be walking out the doors with, not only their high school diplomas, but college credits on their transcripts.
“The fact that almost all of you have met the ACT benchmark is a tribute to you and your teachers,” Benjamin added.
Facilitator Allen Hunley, who will be leaving OIA after this year, called the Class of 2021 a special group of students that faced a challenging final school year unlike any other.
“But that’s what we do here at OIA,” Hunley said. “We face challenges and overcome them.”
Hunley, who’d become known for his “physics is everything” mantra, used a series of physics-related metaphors to describe the moments of change and equilibrium that his students would experience throughout their lives.
“Change can be very dramatic,” he said. “In your life, there’s going to be stress. There will be times when you simply don’t know what to do.”
When facing those changes, Hunley told the Class of 2021 to “take a moment, reflect, make a plan, and keep going.”
“All of us have fears, doubts, concerns and worries,” he continued. “Life is going to be tough, but you already know that. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
Owensboro Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Matthew Constant commended the graduates for taking a chance with OIA, saying, “Everything we could’ve imagined as education leaders in this community is coming true because of you.”
Legislation in Frankfort, Constant said, was being written to include more innovate measures in the education system.
“You know what? We have already done it, because of you,” he said.
OIA student Caitlyn Bell reflected on the students she’d grown up with over the last four years, highlighting memories of group projects and referencing several students by name as she described a series of moments when the Class of 2021 worked best together.
“OIA was, at one point, just an idea. To make it happen, we had to work hard,” she said. “The most important thing we learned was the value of working together. That allowed all of the students to show off their talents.”
Calling herself “truly honored” to have been given the chance to know her classmates, Bell said the Class of 2021 had been a welcoming group of students to spend the last four years with.
“Each and every one of you made the Class of 2021 great,” she said.