Freehold High School seniors reach bittersweet end to scholastic days

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Everyone is feeling the impact of the state-mandated shelter in place orders due to COVID-19. Need a haircut or your nails done? Of course you do. Can’t find toilet paper or the piece of meat you want? No question about it.

But as most people have to bear the isolation and the emotional and financial stress that comes with getting by during a global pandemic, high school seniors are missing out on so many of the things that become lifelong memories.

No more senior sports or activities. No Senior Skip Day. No Senior Trip. No Senior Prom. Most importantly, many parents and seniors fear the Class of 2020 won’t get to experience the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of walking across a stage to accept their hard-earned high school diploma.

Of course, after June 24, the students in the Class of 2020 will be considered graduates of Freehold High School following a virtual graduation from the Freehold Borough school. And they will forever be Colonials. However, the potential for an actual graduation ceremony remains up in the air.

According to a recent email from Charles B. Sampson, the superintendent of the six-school Freehold Regional High School District, “We recognize the importance of celebrating the Class of 2020 and we will be attempting to schedule in-person graduation ceremonies during the week of July 27.”

He noted, “any in-person graduation ceremony will follow all appropriate protocols as outlined by the Governor’s Executive Order regarding social distancing and allowable public gatherings.”

Lynn Cannon, mother of senior Kara, started a Facebook group, Freehold Boro Class of 2020 Parents, to reach as many parents as possible. All parents of Class of 2020 students are encouraged to join the group.

“We have to celebrate our seniors, come up with ideas to recognize them and share our feelings because we are feeling the loss as much as the kids,” Cannon said. “We need to continue to stay positive for our kids and help us all get through this together. We are BoroStrong!”

Mary Piotrowski is president of the school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Organization. Her son, Shaun, played baseball for four years and participated in DECA for four years. She is a single mom and Shaun is her only child. She joined the Facebook group and is actively working on ideas to help make the best of an unfortunate situation.

Cannon and Piotrowski, along with several other parents, are discussing celebrations other school districts have held and are looking to make this time as special as it can be for the Class of 2020. The PTSO plans to present each graduate with a gift when graduation does take place.

“Shaun wants to go back to say goodbye to all his friends and teachers,” Piotrowski said. “And the kids need to have closure. As parents, we think it’s important that we have a graduation of some kind. The administration understands the importance of it and they will do whatever they can to make it happen.”

This is true, confirmed Rebecca Policastro, coordinator of Freehold Regional High School District’s Communications and District Projects.

“We are exploring safe and creative options for graduation for the Class of 2020. The
exact details will be communicated with families once plans are finalized. We hope to communicate those plans very soon,” she said.

Seniors recently received Class of 2020 T-shirts that were mailed directly to their homes. Plans for the distribution of caps and gowns, yearbooks and other items are forthcoming.

Maddie Costa, president of the senior class, admits the reality of how the school year is ending is disappointing, but said, at the same time, “It’s out of our control. We need to keep people safe and if I had to give up a third of my senior year, that’s OK because I still had the rest of high school to make memories.”

In addition to missing out on a prom and a graduation ceremony, Maddie said she is most upset about not being able to say goodbye to friends and teachers.

“I want to be able to thank our teachers for the impact they made on us,” the young woman said.

Cannon’s daughter, Kara, a cheerleader, is the third member of her family to graduate from Freehold High School. Like all of the other seniors, she said she is missing out on the idea of how she always thought her high school career would end.

“I am missing out on making memories I would look back on for the rest of my life. I just want to be able to say goodbye to everyone and salvage the rest of senior year with my classmates,” she said.

Briget Hulse’s son Thomas has been a member of the football team.

“He told me he misses his friends and normalcy the most and would love the chance to walk across that football field one last time with his friends and be part of the tradition that his whole family has been a part of,” Hulse said.

“Like so many others, I’m sad for these kids. Most have worked so hard to get to their senior year. There is so much they are missing. There is no doubt these kids will be the strongest of the strongest,” she said.

Senior Carla Ramirez-Felicio, a member of the swim team, said, “I am missing seeing my friends and teachers. I would like something over the summer for graduation.”

Carla’s mother, Denise Ramirez, agreed the senior class deserves to celebrate their milestone.

“I believe all seniors have some kind of acknowledgement in front of their houses, even for students whose parents couldn’t afford to purchase the lawn signs,” she said.

Christine Tweeddale, mom of senior Robbie, is hopeful the administration will make the effort to plan an outdoor graduation ceremony in line with social distancing protocols.

“It can be done! Let’s space out chairs in between students, have everyone wear a mask, which the seniors can decorate along with their graduation cap,” she suggested. “If there are too many people, hold the ceremony with graduates only and live-stream it for the parents.”

In an email sent to the parents of seniors, Freehold High School Principal Linda Jewell wrote, “I share your disappointment that we will not be able to hold our traditional end of the year celebrations. I wish everyone continued good health during this difficult time.”

“Heartbroken” is a word that was echoed by many parents of seniors as they watch their children finish the school year online, without the promise of pomp and circumstance.

“I am totally heartbroken. I am sorry we will not be able to celebrate her accomplishments with all of our family cheering for her,” Cannon said. “There is so much I would like to see done, but it’s hard. At this point, I just want the kids to know they are not alone and we are so proud of each of them.”