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BRATTLEBORO — For Jonah Johnson, attending graduation was a surreal moment.

“Not just because this could be the last time I see many of you. And not just because I see many of my longtime friends wearing purple caps with smiles on their faces,” he said, giving the welcoming speech for the Brattleboro Union High School commencement ceremony on Friday. “It’s because there were many times where we thought, or at least, I thought, we weren’t going to be here today.”

He reflected on what they’ve all been through, and seen and heard in the past four years, including the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, the 2020 election “and the world on fire.”

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Jonah Johnson, a graduating senior from Brattleboro Union High School, gives the welcome address during the graduation ceremony on Friday.

“We survived murder hornets and the multiple waves of the dreaded COVID-19,” said Johnson. “However, through these many terrible and tragic events, we still stand here, defiant, steadfast and ready to take on any challenges that the world can throw at us. Let me tell you, my friends, if we can make it through Zoom, a life of confinement in our houses for a year, then we can face anything.”

Johnson told his fellow graduates that wherever they are going after graduation — into the military or the workforce, taking a gap year or going straight to college, or going to trade school — to meet the next few years of their lives “head on.”

“One thing I have learned is that if you keep pushing yourself and you give yourself that drive and power, you can do anything you put your mind to.”