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Carlisle seniors use video to turn adversity into opportunity
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Carlisle seniors use video to turn adversity into opportunity

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“I felt strong, eager, ready to own the halls,” Kayleigh Wachtman said. “I couldn’t wait to see what happens next.”

She was sharing her memories of life as a student in the Senior Showcase, a 45-minute video posted Wednesday on the Carlisle Area School District website. The goal of the production was to celebrate the Class of 2020.

The assertiveness she felt last summer was a far cry from being a bundle of nerves early in her freshman year when prospects were scary but hopeful. Back then, just getting to her second period class on time was a feat.

“All you can do is go day-by-day,” she said. “In those four years, I learned more about myself, about others and about the world than I have ever learned before, more than just the quizzes and homework, but the deeper experiences.”

Above all, Wachtman learned that life is unpredictable and, with the uncertainty, comes the struggles that go with challenges and the triumphs of seeing things through.

She is, after all, part of the Thundering Herd, and it’s hard to stop that kind of momentum.

“Even though high school ended in such an abrupt manner for us, the senior Class of 2020 didn’t miss out on everything,” Wachtman said. “Instead, we gained so much more than we can even know.”

Renaissance in thinking

That kind of grit shined through almost every moment of the Senior Showcase. The video was all about youths making the most of a difficult situation and turning it on its ear.

“We just wanted to give everyone some closure,” fellow senior Sophia Toti said. She was one of about 20 students on the senior class council. A critical function of the group is to organize the spring events that define the senior year of high school.

The Class of 2020 started off with all the typical expectations. As the months went by, seniors counted their days to graduation as the council geared up for the work ahead. But everything was disrupted by the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and by the closure of all schools across Pennsylvania starting in mid-March.

Time-honored traditions like the senior class trip and picnic were no longer possible. The prom was derailed before the student body could vote for the prom court. A graduation ceremony scheduled for July 25 depends on whether Carlisle meets the safety protocols set by state and federal officials.

As a council member, Toti found herself out of a job. Morale was low. “At first, I was definitely upset,” she said. “But I have learned to always keep my head up high and look for the positive in everything.”

Rather than let disappointment prevail, Toti and her classmates improvised. They turned their attention to the Renaissance, the annual senior class talent show held the day before graduation.

“From that came something memorable and unique to our senior year,” Toti said. “That’s one way to look at it.”

The production

Math teacher David Bigelow has been the senior class council adviser for years. When the announcement was made that school would be closed for the rest of 2019-20, Bigelow scheduled a council meeting on the Zoom video conferencing platform to brainstorm alternatives.

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Right away, they settled on the Renaissance, thinking the spirit of that event could work in a virtual format. “This was something the seniors could make for each other,” Bigelow said. The council got approval from the high school administration.

The traditional Renaissance involved seniors auditioning in-person for a spot on the stage. The virtual version invited seniors to produce and submit videos during a two-week period that ended May 15.

Bigelow screened each entry while working with council members to finalize a production made up of three acts and an epilogue. Working with Preston Griffin, a video editor, Bigelow pieced together the videos submitted by students, a slideshow of still photos and recorded segments that featured seniors Carter Gallahue and Matthew Keating as hosts and Caleb Reapsome and Jacob Rauhut as sports correspondents.

The result was the Senior Showcase video that was livestreamed on Wednesday and drew about 120 viewers during its debut. By Friday morning, that number quadrupled to 500 unique viewers, Bigelow said.

The video included elements common to past Renaissance talent shows such as students playing instruments or singing songs. But the Class of 2020 added personalized touches.

Herd about us?

Instead of losing the prom entirely, the video was used to introduce members of the court selected by students who cast their votes electronically using the Schoology learning management platform. There was a photo of every potential king or queen along with a brief mention of their plans. Each had an opportunity to offer parting words.

Prom King Casey Padgett shared with his classmates a very simple formula to get by in troubled times: “Always remember to love life, live presently, laugh often and God bless,” he was quoted as saying.

When COVID-19 canceled the spring sports season, Carlisle students fired back with video segments that highlighted the names of the senior class athletes and the colleges they plan to attend.

Looking a bit like the Blues Brothers, dressed in dark suits and shades, the sports correspondents offered up a challenge to four standout senior athletes.

The cancellation of spring sports was “a heartbreaking loss of hope,” Rauhat said in a lead-up that invoked the school mascot. “But the competitive spirit of us all still beats inside the heart of every single bison.”

The four athletes had one minute to move a cookie placed on their forehead to their mouths without using their hands. The contestants could use whatever means possible to assert their dominance. Reapsome cited as examples such techniques as the Eyebrow Shrug, the Head Twitch and the enigmatic Shimmy Shake to get the job done.

The winner was James Barlow, who played basketball for the Thundering Herd.

Here and there, throughout the video, were messages of hope, resolve and humor. Reading from her original poetry, Samantha Martin recalled a fantasy of being a superhero akin to Spider-Man even as she described herself as a “small town girl who is struggling to find her place in life.”

A Carlisle native, she has lived here her entire life and yearns to move on as quickly as possible. Martin knows, just beyond the horizon, there is a whole world of experiences waiting for her.

“It’s hard to find wonder in the place where you were born,” Martin said. “Every building is part of a memory. Every voice is one I have heard before.”

Yet she also mentioned the simple gifts of memories that will stay with her, from the architecture of Dickinson College to the smell of baked goods in the air to chatting up local shopkeepers.

“I may not be Spider-Man, but I am the friendly neighbor,” Martin said.

Photos: Carlisle High School 2020 Graduate Car Parade

Email Joseph Cress at


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