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Contributed Photo - Sumner McCallie, Dean of Faculty and Curriculum, leading the graduates into the stadium; behind him is Gus Buck from Jacksonville, Florida, co-salutatorian and recipient of the Grayson Medal.

On Saturday, 165 McCallie School students received diplomas during a graduation ceremony held at the school's Spears Stadium.

According to a news release, the in-person ceremony was held outdoors with restricted numbers of attendees due to coronavirus. The graduates and their families underwent temperature screenings prior to entering campus and were required to wear masks and maintain social distancing throughout the ceremony.

McCallie 1980 graduate and board chairman James Ruffin along with head of school and 1997 graduate Lee Burns and other school officials presented diplomas.

According to the release, Burns told graduates that the symbol of 2020 is a mask.

"The masks, of course, help protect you and especially others, but they also hide us, and hinder us. While I want you to wear a literal mask until the pandemic subsides, I don't want you to wear a figurative mask when you leave McCallie," Burns said. "It's tempting to give in to the need to be someone else different than who you really are. We can wear masks to hide our true selves, to hide our fears and failings behind a stoic face, to hide emptiness behind achievements, to sacrifice our passions for something more staid. In short, we can lose our authentic selves when we put on masks. We can become a shadow of who God designed us to be, and calls us to be."

(READ MORE: McCallie students' families in China donate much-needed supplies to Chattanooga hospitals to fight COVID-19)

The new McCallie alumni will disperse to 82 colleges in 23 states and one foreign country. Eighty seven percent have been offered merit, academic, athletic, talent or lottery scholarships to their chosen colleges and universities, the school says.

Burns called the graduates a "a phenomenal group of young men who have not only withstood but have prevailed over trying conditions."

The graduates were presented with special face masks, which they wore during the ceremony.

Ben McDonough of Franklin, Tennessee, was recognized as valedictorian for the class of 2020, and Gus Buck of Jacksonville, Florida, and Matthew Merritt of Bridgeport, Alabama, were recognized as co-salutatorians. Buck also was presented the Grayson Medal, an award given to a senior who exemplifies the highest standards of scholarship and service.

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Contributed Photo - Matthew Merritt (left) of Bridgeport, Alabama, co-salutatorian, talking with Ben McDonough of Franklin, Tennessee, the valedictorian.

All three will attend Yale University this fall and in all, five McCallie graduates will attend Yale, the highest in school history. This year, McCallie had a 20% acceptance rate to Ivy League schools, compared to a national average of 6%.

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com or follow her on Twitter at @justmissmilly

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