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A Strange End To High School, But Kansas City Area Grads Speak About Hope, Happiness And Reaching High

Top row (left to right): Danashia Scott Ruskin, Ellie Russell, Nicholas Burdolski; Bottom row (left to right): Carina Martinez, Emory Apodaca, Ann Nguyen
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Top row (left to right): Danashia Scott Ruskin, Ellie Russell, Nicholas Burdolski; Bottom row (left to right): Carina Martinez, Emory Apodaca, Ann Nguyen

The class of 2020’s journey to adulthood has been filled with challenges, topped by the tragedy surrounding the pandemic. In their graduation speeches, some of Kansas City's best students reflected on high school achievements, overcoming hardship, and the mark they want to make in the world.


Carina Martinez is graduating from Lincoln College Preparatory Academy and is planning to attend Augustana College to study Spanish and environmental studies.

She’s involved in several activities and organizations, including National Hispanic Institute, wind ensemble (1st chair clarinet), wind symphony, Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica (treasurer), PACE Multicultural Program, National Honor Society, swim and dive.

From Carina’s speech: One of my favorite things about Lincoln is our diversity. We are the top school in the city, we are the No. 4 school in the state, and so much more. We have achieved so much with minority students that we proved all of the other schools wrong about us. We are strong and united, our class especially. This experience will only bring us closer.

Hear Carina's speech in its entirety
To the Lincoln College Preparatory Academy class of 2020


Emory Apodaca is graduating from Shawnee Mission East High School, where he is senior class president. He plans to study physics and molecular engineering at the University of Chicago.

In addition to the student council, he is involved in the Math Club, STEM Club and philharmonic orchestra as a cellist.

Emory’s awards include International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate, Commended National Merit Scholar, Hispanic National Merit Scholar, Kansas Honor Scholar.

From Emory’s speech: Regardless of how amazing we are, the class of 2020 is still the Disaster Class. This is because at nearly every single significant milestone in our personal and academic lives, there has been a national or international crisis.

Hear Emory's speech in its entirety
To the Shawnee Mission East High School class of 2020


Ellie Russell is graduating from Lee’s Summit West High School. She plans to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she’ll be involved in the honors program and studying history.

Ellie is a drum major in the marching band, and is also involved in the National Honor Society. She is captain of the debate club, president of the French Club, and a member of the French Honor Society, Book Club, National History Day and Girls United.

Her awards and achievements include: International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate, Seal of Biliteracy in French, four academic letters, national qualifier in congressional debate.

From Ellie’s speech: There is uncertainty in the road ahead of us, but there is also hope. There are disappointments waiting for us, but there will also be moments of happiness so pure that the disappointment feels more like an opportunity.

Hear Ellie's speech in its entirety
To the Lee’s Summit West High School class of 2020


Danashia Scott is graduating from Ruskin High School, where she is student council president. She plans to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City to study dental hygiene.

Danashia’s involvements and activities include the Principal Advisory Council, Superintendent Advisory Council, Business & Finance Institution, PrepKC, Positive Behavior Interventions & Support, College Ambassador, Future Business Leaders of America, Health Occupations Student Association, Federal Reserve Bank Student Board of Directors, 20/20 Leadership, A+ Program, National Honor Society, KC Scholars.

From Danashia’s speech: As we all enter this new chapter of our lives, I ask you to remember one thing. Do not fear failure but be terrified of regret.

Hear Danashia's speech in its entirety
To the Ruskin High School class of 2020

Lea Murphy

Nicholas Burdolski is graduating from Oak Park High School and plans to attend the University of Arkansas, where he’ll study biomedical engineering and be a member of the Razorback Marching Band.

Nicholas is involved in the band, jazz band, pit orchestra, Oak Street Singers, National Honor Society, Health Occupations Students of America (officer), Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce Youth Program, University of Kansas Medical Center Kidney Institute intern, Missouri Scholars Academy.

His awards and achievements include the Blue Star Award for “In The Heights,” and Harvard Book Award.

From Nicholas’ speech: I don’t think any of us could have prepared for missing so many important milestones for our senior year and missing out on spending the last little bit hanging around our friends. The class of 2020 definitely got the short end of the stick, but it just goes to show how strong and resilient we are as a class.

Hear Nicholas' speech in its entirety
To the Oak Park High School class of 2020

Ann Nguyen is graduating from the Kauffman School. She plans to attend Macalester College and major in Neuroscience (she is considering taking the pre-med track but still deciding).

Ann’s activities include student council, yearbook, debate, Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association. She is a volunteer at North Kansas City Hospital.

Though our background is seen as a disadvantage, we can still change, grow and develop into leaders. None of us wants to fail. We want to succeed. We all have goals and aspirations we want to complete. We all want to make our parents proud. We want to make a mark.

Hear Ann's speech in its entirety
To the Kauffman School class of 2020

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