High school seniors long for a traditional graduation

Sparta and Newton. School leaders have pledged to do everything possible to give their seniors' hard work and achievement the recognition they deserve. But for many members of the Class of 2020, virtual ceremonies just don't make the grade.

Newton /
12 May 2020 | 03:19

With a state mandate to continue remote schooling for the rest of the year, local schools are doing what they can to create some sort of graduation for high school seniors. No, it won’t include all of the usual “Pomp and Circumstance,” but it will be something.

“We are deep in the process of planning out our graduation right now,” said Brian Bosworth, principal at Kittatinny Regional High School. “The foundation of the graduation will be virtual, and we might try to expand upon that depending on the ever-changing guidance we are receiving from the CDC and the NJDOE," referring to the Centers for Disease Control and the New Jersey Department of Education.

Though the school isn't planning a remote prom, its student leadership has some great ideas to celebrate their class.

“They have started up a class Instagram account and talked about possibly sharing ‘prom photos’ on the account on the night of what would have been our prom,” Bosworth said. “We truly feel badly that the seniors will be missing out on all of these special events, and we will support them in any way we can. Our Class of 2020 is a very special group. They have so much school spirit, so I have no doubt that they will continue to shine even in non-traditional ways.”

The school is planning to mail diplomas to graduates. Students do not receive their actual diplomas at a typical graduation ceremony anyway.

Bosworth said his 7-12 school is planning graduation for eighth grade as well.

“This planning and preparation deserve all of our immediate attention, as there is a lot to work through," he said. "However, we also have an eye towards September and understand that our summer of preparation will be vast and unpredictable. A lot can change between now and September, but as always, our first priority will be the safety and security of our students and staff. We will continue to follow guidance set forth by the NJDOE and will have to be flexible in our planning.”

'I want to walk'

Alyssa Amorim is a senior at Kittatinny and will be attending Dartmouth College in the fall.

“I want them to hold off and do graduation during the summer,” she said. “I want to walk. I didn’t suffer through four years of high school to not be able to graduate. I worked so hard and feel like it doesn’t really matter anymore.”

Her mother, Claudia Burge, suggested an in-person ceremony with social distancing.

“I would like to see them stand six feet apart and walk the stage," she said. "I’m not sure if that’s realistic, but I believe West Point or the Naval Academy made it work. Or I would like to see them wait and do a regular graduation in the summer. I think the kids should get to vote on which one they like best. After all, they’re young adults, and it’s their graduation.”

Classmate and soccer teammate, Olivia Redden, who will be attending Fordham University in the fall, agrees with Alyssa.

“I think seniors deserve a real graduation, even if it’s later than it's supposed to be,” she said. “They have worked so hard for four years, and it’s not fair that they don’t get to graduate and say their last goodbyes.”

Sharon Ward’s daughter, Emily, is a senior at Kittatinny who will be attending Delaware University in the fall.

“I am hoping for a live ceremony even if it has to be over the summer, understanding it may need to be done creatively and allow for distancing,” she said. “A virtual or drive-by ceremony would be very disappointing to the students as well as the parents.”

Jack Choma teaches at Newton High School. His daughter, Nellie, will be graduating from Kittatinny.

“There’s still plenty of time for Kittatinny and Newton to plan accordingly and give the seniors something at school outside,” he said. “Let’s agree to think outside the box. I’ve sent both principals video TV interviews of what other schools are offering for their students. We could surely modify and give our seniors more than a virtual ceremony. Seniors deserve that, however small, but something on school grounds.”

'Making the best of the situation'

In Sparta, Zander Papandrikos is a senior at Sparta High School, and his sister, Carys, is a sixth grader at Sparta Middle School.

“As parents, we were so sad to get the finalization of school closings from Governor Murphy,” said their mother, Robyn Papandrikos. “While it was expected, it was still a sad confirmation. As a senior, Zander is sad but is taking it in stride, with much more grace than I am. He’s missing spring track and field, countless awards, and spring concerts for choir and band, just to name a few.”

Like other seniors in Sparta, Zander left school on a Thursday in March and the next day was told to pick up his things -- not knowing it would be his last stroll in the hallway as a student.

“It's just awful,” his mother said. “Senior superlative photos are being taken at home, there will be no yearbook signing from peers and their teachers, yet they get it... they get that people are sick and dying, but they are still kids, and this is still a loss.”

At Pope John, Brian Vohden, director of curriculum, said, “Everything is still very much in the works."

"Our students and teachers continue to amaze us with the work they are doing in class each day," he said "While this isn't the most ideal educational situation, I can say without hesitation that we are making the best of the situation.”

Suzanne Bruno is the administrator at Veritas Christian Academy in Sparta.

“The leadership of Veritas is committed to a meaningful graduation for our students and their families,” she said. “That began with socially distanced visits to each senior's home this past week, after Governor Murphy's school closure announcement. We wanted to see their faces, albeit mostly masked, and reassure them. We took the occasion to deliver graduation lawn signs with their senior pictures prominently displayed. They were emotional but encouraging visits in light of the remainder of their school year being cancelled. Each distanced visit was a responsible and proportionate response to the ‘bad news’ all seniors received this week.”

As for graduation, the school is awaiting guidance from authorities.

“In the meantime, we have partnered with a virtual graduation company to prepare for any choices we may be given,” Bruno said. “We will make those decisions when we are able to. My commitment to my seniors is that ‘what we can do, we will do’ for them and their families.”

Michael Rossi, Jr., PhD, superintendent of Sparta Public Schools, said the school is working with Href Jones Company to provide a YouTube type ceremony. The Return to School Committee first met to plan the end of year, which includes all 12th grade considerations, scheduling for 2020-21, and final grades.

"Then we talked about summer -- ESY, camps and sports," said Rossi. "For the next school year, we are framing out modified days, alternative schedules, and a blend of on-site and remote learning as possibilities."

Feeling cheated

Lisa Hand is a member of the Sparta Parent Teacher Organization, and her daughter is a graduating senior at Sparta High.

“Right now, there is nothing specific planned, but both students and parents are very disappointed, with canceling of prom and in person ceremony at this time,” she said. “We are trying to talk to the school and find out a better alternative.”

Her daughter, Andonia, said she is “completely aware of the uncertainty and devastation this pandemic has brought our world.”

She understands the importance of the quarantine to keep people safe, but as a 2020 graduate, who will be attending the University of Arizona in the fall, she and her family are “feeling the effects personally.”

“I am extremely upset and disappointed at the idea of having a virtual graduation,” she said. “My friends and I feel cheated, like all the hard work and dedication we put into school is just being overlooked. I wish Sparta gave us the option to choose an in-person graduation later in the year, and I hope this may still be possible. All I want is to be with my childhood friends in person and get the proper closure of the school I’ve grown to love in order move onto the next chapter of my life.”

Students attend classes, take tests, check in with teachers, get workouts from coaches, and keep in touch with one another through what they call “Zoom University.” For the Class of 2020, the last moments of high school will be bittersweet ones.

“My friends and I feel cheated, like all the hard work and dedication we put into school is just being overlooked. All I want is to be with my childhood friends in person and get the proper closure of the school I’ve grown to love in order move onto the next chapter of my life.” --Andonia Hand