MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Mayor Tim Donohue told the graduates gathered Tuesday at Memorial Field that their final high school moment was a graduation and a reunion at the same time.
It had been nearly four months since the Middle Township High School Class of 2020 had gathered together in the same place at the same time.
Like many high schools in the state that had been closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Middle Township had planned a traditional in-person commencement for its graduating class almost as soon as they were able to host one.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced in May that he would ease social distancing restrictions to allow graduation ceremonies to begin July 6 with a maximum gathering size of 500 people.
Wildwood High School was set to be the first in the area with a ceremony Monday, but threats of severe weather forced administrators there to postpone the event for later in the week, giving Middle Township the honor.
The final moment would not be overshadowed by a lost spring for the high school seniors due to the pandemic, valedictorian David Tzorfas said.
“Although our initial plans for the rest of our senior year were cut short, our determination to make the most of the time we had left has never been stronger,” Tzorfas said. “From being a part of too many Zoom calls to hosting a virtual talent show to celebrating our successful porch prom, we kept moving forward. We are determined. We are resilient. We are the Class of 2020.”
Senior class President Johnathan Hargest apologized to his classmates for not being able to give them an amazing end to their senior year and recounted recent current events like the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the deaths of more than 130,000 Americans due to the coronavirus.
“I’m sorry for all of this, feeling out of control and helpless,” Hargest said. “We may be going out in the world at one of the toughest times in our history, but I have hope.
“I have hope because you are also entering a world where you have the power to use your voice to create change, support one another, peacefully protest and join together to fight for what is right,” he said.
Despite the circumstances, the ceremony Tuesday remained traditional, if not for the heat of the summer sun beating on the field and the black “X” marks taped on the bleachers to keep families separated.
Students still walked across the stage as their name was called to receive their diplomas and turned the tassels on their mortarboards to signify their transition from student to graduate. The caps, however, stayed on their heads, there were no hugs among friends, and parents could not rush the field to congratulate their children.
Principal George West noted the accomplishments of the students and their perseverance through the year.
“The entire school district is in awe of your ability to overcome, adapt and succeed. In the end, we hope your four years spent at Middle Township was challenging, fulfilling and gratifying,” West said.