WHS plans virtual graduation ceremony


Photo Julia McGann

WHS class of 2020 graduation sign

Katie Hamilton and Julia McGann

Senior graduation is the moment most Westfield students dream of since kindergarten when they were first bestowed their legendary red apple. It’s the time for students to finally launch their caps across Kehler Stadium with the people they’ve grown up with for the past 13 years and exit the Westfield Public School District to begin the next chapter of their life. However, for 2020 seniors across the world, the question as to whether they will be able to partake in this iconic experience still remains unclear. 

On May 26, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that schools will be able to host outdoor graduations starting on July 6. Although this news initially seemed promising, it came with a catch. According to the NJ Department of Education, outdoor ceremonies must “meet the relevant capacity limitation on in-person gatherings in place at the time of the ceremony.” 

The current regulations state that the maximum number of individuals allowed to gather in an outdoor setting is 25 people. Unfortunately, this means Westfield’s senior class, comprised of 483 students, will likely not see an outdoor graduation in the near future.

According to WHS Assistant Principal Jim DeSarno, the administration is doing “everything and anything we can to give the class a strong goodbye.” 

The current plans include a virtual graduation ceremony reserved for June 23 at 7:00 pm, with the hopes of holding an outdoor ceremony on July 30. 

Although the administration is trying to make the occasion special for the graduating class, DeSarno said it’s never going to simulate what it has been in the past. 

According to DeSarno, the virtual ceremony will be pre-recorded in the WHS TV studio. Principal Mary Asfendis, SGA President John Czarnecki and 2020 Class Council President Alexis Hammer will all be speaking at the ceremony. The choral students will also be showcasing a song during the ceremony and there will be a surprise guest speaker who remains undisclosed at this time. 

DeSarno said the virtual ceremony will last about one hour, which is roughly 45 minutes shorter than a typical graduation ceremony. Following the ceremony, the entire community will be asked to go outside at 8:20 pm and “make some noise” in honor of the class of 2020, since 20:20 is military time for 8:20.  

While there is still no plan as to how diplomas are going to be distributed, every graduate’s name will still be announced during the ceremony as per usual. 

On June 8, there will be a cap and gown drive held at the high school. According to DeSarno, students will be asked to return on Wednesday to take pictures in their graduation attire which will be showcased during the virtual ceremony. 

The virtual ceremony is intended to provide closure to the graduates on the last official day of school and allow them to celebrate the moment with their families because it is likely only the students will be allowed to attend the outdoor ceremony if there is one, according to Jenna Cohen, 2020 Class Council Advisor. 

DeSarno said the current plan for the outdoor ceremony will include no orchestra and the number of staff members in attendance will be limited in order to comply with social distancing efforts. 

DeSarno said the situation is “heartbreaking” for the seniors because “[they] are not getting the opportunity to finish their Westfield education experience together.” While graduation is special for all students in different ways, it signifies a “pathway into adulthood” and is a huge milestone in every person’s life.

Some WHS seniors feel very strongly about having the opportunity to graduate outside with their peers. Senior Elie Cestero said, “I’m really hoping we can do something in person. To me [holding the ceremony] virtually is really unsatisfactory and not the closure I wanted. It’s really hard to leave school one day with the kids you’ve grown up with and not go back. It’s so important to me to have a goodbye to the last 12 years of my life and childhood.”

Other seniors feel they have already reached this milestone and that a graduation is not needed to prove their hard work through the years. “I don’t mind not having an official in-person graduation ceremony and I feel that our class would prove our character better by showing consideration and respect for the public’s well-being before thinking of ourselves,” senior Marcelina Krowinska said.

Despite these mixed opinions, “I think it’s important that we can all celebrate our achievement and accomplishments together,” Class Council President Alexis Hammer said. “Ultimately these times will bring us together even though we are apart.”