NORTH BRUNSWICK – Although the graduates of North Brunswick Township High School (NBTHS) have undergone a tough few months, dealing with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, missing prom and not finishing out the school year with their friends, they were still treated to a few surprises during their virtual graduation.
Tim Howard, a 1997 graduate and professional soccer superstar, shared a special message during the June 17 broadcast.
“I know 2020 has been a trying year, but it’s one you will always remember because it’s your year,” he said. “You faced social injustice, a pandemic, and many other things, but through it all you triumphed. You’re here today.
“The future is ahead of you and brighter than ever. You can go into the world, higher education, workforce, traveling the world, community projects all over New Jersey and America and the world, and you’ll be better for it and you’ll be successful because you’re from North Brunswick.”
Howard said some of his fondest memories are walking through the halls of NBTHS, and that some of his friends from then are still his best friends today. He said to take the priceless memories of high school with you going forward.
“I’m with you. I am honored and blessed to have the chance to be among you and to be counted as one of you,” he said.
The students also received a virtual surprise from the New York Giants. Quarterback Daniel Jones, guard Will Hernandez, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and linebacker Blake Martinez shared special messages for the Class of 2020.
The video opened with the voice of Director of Guidance Kevin Farrell stating, “North Brunswick Township High School: your alma mater, the place where you grew from a child to an adult. 2020 was supposed to be your year, everything senior year had to offer, the culmination of years of schooling, so many experiences to be had – but the world changed.”
As a slideshow began, Farrell reminded the graduating seniors their hard work did not go unnoticed and that staff members hope students smile as they reflect on all the good times.
“As you leave, know that you made your mark at NBTHS, and the time to take your next step is now,” he said.
Valedictorian Sidharth Bejugama acknowledged the tumultuous events of the past few months during his speech.
“Well, here we are, back where it all began, in our living rooms, bedrooms and basements, graduating. We are graduating with less freedom than the day we walked in as freshman. We are engaging with the world from 6 feet away.
“We relied on Netflix and Zoom meetings way too much for our entertainment purposes. We developed an unhealthy relationship with our old friend and adversary Google Classroom. We not only eat because we’re hungry, we started eating because we’re bored.
“We are living through a convoluted, conflicted and chaotically crazy part of history. We’re living through a rising revolution, countless individuals affected by the physical coronavirus, while millions more are affected by its social, economical, racial and ethnic implications.
“They are the members of society that few choose to acknowledge until times get tough. They are those unable to hold onto family businesses and put food on their family tables.
“Those unable to seek necessary care in our country’s profit-seeking hospitals, due to the religion they follow or their economic status. Those unable to breathe because of the color of their skin. Those we were previously watching from outside until the virus put us all under the same roof.
“We are now them. But like the American Revolution of 1776, like the Civil War of 1863, and the riots and protests of 2020, Americans fight back when they hit the wall and have little left to lose. They take great steps to inspire powerful change.”
Bejugama said the Class of 2020 has an advantage in this revolution. He said students have developed tactics as diverse as the high school. He told his fellow classmates to look past white, black or brown; to look past the hijabs and mehndi; to appreciate what is behind the skin, “to know that all of our perspectives make each of us richer.”
He asked his peers to listen instead of argue, understand instead of fighting, and be human to one another.
“We are all composed of the things we have learned from each other. We are forever curious because we seek to discover the hidden aspects from the people around us. We sway from the expected path because we are driven by the innumerable goals and ambitions of our peers,” he said.
“North Brunswick has had the privilege of having our minds and hearts for the better part of 18 years. Now, it’s time for the rest of the world to experience all we have to offer,” he aid.
He told his friends to never compromise their beliefs or morals; to retain their individuality, and to use that power to bring together individuals of all kinds; and to urge others to be themselves.
“Be strong willed, open minded and ruthlessly loving. Don’t be better, be the best,” he said.
Salutatorian Rima Peddi said with every sports win, every club joined, every friend met and every teacher loved, students created “small, spontaneous and sincere moments.”
“When we first walked through those glass doors, we were nervous, scared and definitely a little lost. We had no idea what we were doing. But over the past four years, every one of us experienced a moment when the feeling of fear and anxiety were replaced with feelings of excitement, joy and pure adrenaline.
“…With every new memory, every activity and every person we fell in love with, we felt a little less lost and we found our way, and not without some unforgettable adventures along the way.”
She said although she does not know when things will feel normal again, students should not hold their breath, should not wait, but instead do things that are right here and right now.
“Don’t compromise when it comes to things you love and the person you are,” she said.
Princess Boachie delivered the Senior Class Address, joking at first how freshman year there were scary clowns on the loose, there was a gas leak during sophomore year that almost burned down the school, junior year was met by a mold infestation, and as seniors everyone had to deal with COVID-19.
“We make circumstances that could bring us down lift us up – and laugh about it,” she said.
She said her fellow classmates have a lot of future potential. She said “the struggle was real” but they made it. She asked them to keep a positive and optimistic attitude in the future.
“I know sometimes things can get rough and difficult. We are people who work hard and are dedicated,” she said.
North Brunswick Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack remarked to the Class of 2020: “This year your graduation means more to our township than usual. Your graduation is both symbolic and concrete proof that even in the continuing midst of a crisis that interrupts, upends and disrupts our lives, we do have the ability to overcome, to move forward.
“… In these few short months, the members of this class have been called upon to sacrifice like no other in recent generations, and you have been called to heroic service … to lead our country and the world to stand up and take action and acknowledge Black Lives Matter,” he said.
While Womack noted this is the only class to have worn masks, Gloria Gonzalez, president of the North Brunswick Board of Education, said this pandemic cheated students of many rites of passage.
“We all realize we could not make it look and feel as you had dreamt this day to be,” she said. “We are comforted by knowing that wherever you go you will bring a resilience and a commitment to make things right again, that you will face this world of pandemics and social injustice as you will stand tall …
“That you, the Class of 2020, will forever be remembered in history for empathy, collaboration and social justice … in the middle of a global pandemic. Thank you for being our inspiration.”
Principal Michael Kneller said despite the turn of events this year, the seniors will still keep fond memories of sports teams making school history, homecoming dances, ArtStock, Powder Puff games, the Key Club Carnival, pep rallies, decorating the school for the holidays, and doing the Conga Line at a chorus concert – also applauding the Class of 2020 for being the first to beat the teachers in the annual student-staff basketball game.
“Time will pass and someday you will look back on how those relationships helped shape who you have become,” he said.
“Our society needs future leaders. Each of you has the opportunity to make positive changes in our surroundings and our society. I hope you will embrace that as you are our future.”
After Kneller certified the Class of 2020, he presented them to Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski before each student had his or her opportunity to cross the stage.
“It is my belief the Class of 2020 is ready and willing to foster advances in society, science, engineering and business, all the while being guided by a set of ethical principles learned and being reinforced at NBTHS,” Zychowski said.
He said the students will adapt their potential into application, and will transform the integrity of their training and purity of moral path into something that will shape their lives.
“I believe your generation has educated us that progress without humanity, without equity, without accessibility and without sustainability is material advancement overshadowed by spiritual recession,” he said.
He said this generation will learn from the mistakes of prior generations, and will accept responsibility and “be the change.”
“I have no doubt you can and will make a difference in the future,” he said, offering the class the gifts of balance, passion and health.
NBTHS has scheduled an in-person graduation for July 10 as per the governor’s lifted restrictions.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The graduating Class of 2020 from North Brunswick Township High School:
Mohammed Amin Abdul Hamid
Nayeli Aymat Ramos
Danievi Baez Mojica
Jerry DeJesus Bonifacio
Zunny Calles Villeda
Adamari Camarillo Lopez
Ryean Castillo Carrillo
Yaduani Cruz Cristobal
Phibi De Jesus
Estefania De la Rosa Baldobino
Genesis DeLaCruz Ravello
Rosa Diaz Rodriguez
Laisa Duarte Magana
Christian Elliott Vickerie
Emely Espinal Liranzo
Jeremy Espinosa Acosta
Emily Feliz Tejada*
Hector M Figueroa
Luz Gomez Espinal
Reynaldo Hernandez Sarmiento
Shayan Ishtiaq Khan
Alhaji Mohamed Jalloh Barrie
Yahaira Jimenez Lopez
Fay Jah Johnson
Mark Joseph Jose
Christopher Lopez Rojas
Hillary Montilla Mejia
Eduardo Morales Fiallos
Diana Nouel Isa
Loribel Nunez Benitez
Angel Nunez Toledo
Kevin Ortiz Hernandez
Maria Osorio Fernandez
Roman Paz Gonzalez
Mainor Paz Linares
Juan Pena Alvarado
Maria Penaloza Vazquez
Kenia Peralta Rodriguez
Rosa Lia Perez-Olivera
Abrianna Pimentel Garcia
Emelyn Pozo Colon
Winnard Franz Ravago
Antonio Ricardo Reyes
Felix Rivera Jr
Yudelys Rocha Mendez
Emilio Sanchez Mendoza
Rashel Santos Andino*
Abdul Wahab Savage*
Jared Silva Dias
Erika Sinche Sinchi
Harold Solano Perez
Jaredis Valentin Rosario
SolAngel Van Liew
*National Honor Society