For two senior classes, the Candlelight Ceremony provides a flickering flame of hope


The Central Trend

The Candlelight Ceremony in 2019, when the class of 2019 transferred leadership to the Class of 2020, the last year that Candlelight was normal

Alumna Meredith VanSkiver vividly recalls sitting in the audience of the Candlelight Ceremony her freshman year, enraptured by the sea of glowing candles, longing to someday be recognized in her senior class’s Candlelight Ceremony, to receive a cord for her graduation gown, to be a speaker. 

And she similarly recalls her junior year, when she shared that sacrosanct moment with not only then senior Tess Bond, her Candlelight partner, but the rest of her class and the rest of the school, observing from the bleachers.

“I very vividly remember the part where all the seniors, the class of 2019, blew out their candles,” Meredith said, “and the juniors, my class of 2020, got to lift ours up and kind of take on the role of the new seniors. It was such a weird, surreal moment.”

But as a Class of 2020 alumna, Meredith’s Candlelight experience was drastically altered by the virulent hands of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with many of her final symbolic high school experiences. 

“The pandemic did kind of cheat me out of that in-person [Candlelight] experience,” Meredith said. “I think retrospectively, it’s not the biggest thing in the world; you learn to move on. But in the moment, it was definitely really, really sad.”

“We just found out on a random Thursday that we would never be coming back, ever. And that was really, really scary when it first happened. I think Candlelight grounded us cause it was something we were all familiar with.

— Meredith VanSkiver

However, Meredith believes that what Candlelight was still able to accomplish was something of a saving grace for the Class of 2020.

Candlelight is supposed to be a sendoff of sorts and a celebration of the senior class and its achievements, both individually and collectively. By stealing away a traditional graduation, or really any kind of closure at all, the pandemic exacerbated the need for an experience like Candlelight.

“We just found out on a random Thursday that we would never be coming back, ever,” Meredith said. “And that was really, really scary when it first happened. I think Candlelight grounded us cause it was something we were all familiar with.”

The 2020 Candlelight Ceremony was transformed into a pre-recorded YouTube video that still maintained much of the traditional structure, and modified the candle-passing into a solitary “passing of the torch,” between Class of 2020 student body president Tommy Hendricks and the upcoming Class of 2021 student body president, Zoe Lipke. 

Now, senior Zoe Lipke is involved in the planning of yet another unconventional Candlelight Ceremony. 

Assuming that pandemic regulations allow for it, the Candlelight ceremony will be a senior event at the Fine Arts Center on the seniors’ last day before graduation: May 14 at 7 P.M. And while it will be different than ever before, Zoe feels that the true spirit of Candlelight will be captured.

“Our whole senior class will be able to be together for one final time besides graduation, which will be really nice,” Zoe said. “I’m really excited for it because at least we’re going to be able to be together, and that’s the whole point of it.”

The event will be live-streamed on social studies and FX teacher Jeff Manders’ YouTube page. Zoe hopes that the underclassmen who watch the event will feel fortunate to have watched their classmates achieve such lofty goals and amazing accomplishments. 

As an underclassman, Zoe always enjoyed Candlelight and was inspired by it. Listening to the variety of awards and scholarships bestowed upon the seniors often made her wonder, “Hey, what am I going to be known for at the end of high school?”

Now, Zoe is looking forward to seeing exactly what her senior Candlelight will entail. 

“The staff is kind of leaving it up in the air with a few of the activities that we’re going to be doing [and] a few of the awards they’re going to be giving out,” Zoe said. “I’m just really excited to see what they have planned, and I know how much hard work they put into it.”

While much is still up in the air because of the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 cases, a stellar collection of teacher advisors are leading the charge on this project.

History teacher Laura Stiles is one such teacher, and she’s characteristically full of ideas on how to make Candlelight better than ever, despite the challenges that this year has presented. 

“[We’ll] be able to have more of a ‘show’ this year, with musical acts and student involvement,” Stiles said, “overall a more light-hearted atmosphere—not as boring as years past. We have a good team working on this, and we will make it the best we can with what we have, maybe even better than in years past. I hope to have it be more like a show than a ceremony.”

Stiles hopes to involve as many facets of the student body as possible, much like the knock-out Winterfest assembly earlier this year. 

But while some traditional aspects simply won’t be possible, Stiles is determined to convey the most salient and iconic themes. 

We have a good team working on this, and we will make it the best we can with what we have, maybe even better than in years past. 

— Laura Stiles

“The purpose of [Candlelight] is two-fold,” Stiles said, “[One], to celebrate senior success and give younger Rangers something to strive for, [and two, to] pass the leadership from the seniors to the juniors.”

Like last year, the seniors’ successes will be capitalized on, and some modified version of passing the candle will occur. 

With all that the teachers are doing to preserve Candlelight, Zoe hopes her class will see how much they care and appreciate all the time and effort that the staff has put into the ceremony. And she also hopes that, despite all they’ve lost this year, they’ll be able to go into Candlelight with a positive attitude. 

“This is something we’re never going to be able to get back,” Zoe said, “and our senior year has been kind of a mess, but this is one thing that we can have normal, and it will be really fun to partake in.”

Like it did for the Class of 2020, Candlelight may be able to provide a flame of encouragement for the Class of 2021. Meredith believes it will, and she’s rooting for them, being able to understand a semblance of what this year has stolen from them. 

“I know the class of 2021’s experience has been very different and very difficult in separate ways,” Meredith said, “but I think it’ll be really exciting for them too because they’ve had a very abnormal year, and hopefully, however Candlelight is presented this year, it’ll be able to provide some sort of normalcy to them.”