Childhood’s end came on a warm summer night for the Lawrence High School Class of 2020, but not on the floor of the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton.
The June 19 ceremony came inside their homes on computer screens, as the seniors and their families watched the high school’s first-ever virtual graduation ceremony. It was filmed over several days, making up for the lack of the traditional in-person ceremony.
Nevertheless, it was complete with Edward Elgar’s traditional “Pomp and Circumstance,” and a virtual tour of the halls of Lawrence High School.
The Trenton Ancient Order of Hibernanians Pipe and Drums band, which has always led the graduating class onto the arena floor, continued the tradition and played virtually.
Jumana Khalifa, the Student Council president, led the Pledge of Allegiance. She was clad in Lawrence High School’s cardinal red cap and gown.
Lawrence High School Principal David Adam admitted to several emotions in his farewell speech to the Class of 2020 – from sadness at how their world had changed overnight, to joy at the class’s tenacity and resilience, and serenity and calmness as he thought about the future.
“Everything is going to be okay. That’s because our future is in such capable hands,” Adam said.
Adam cautioned the seniors that “no matter where life takes you from here, there will be bends in the road, there will be some potholes you’ll have to deal with, and there will even be some smooth traveling conditions. Take it as a learning situation.”
Salutatorian Tucker Simpson said he wished that the Class of 2020 could be together “for this special moment,” and that “most of us feel like we were robbed of a rite of passage. The prom, Mr. LHS, graduation.
“We tend to put too much pressure on the big moments. Those long anticipated days have a hard time living up to the hype,” Tucker said as he tried to console his classmates over what they had missed because the schools were closed.
To those of his classmates who will not miss Lawrence High School, Tucker advised them to take advantage of having a clean slate and to find out what they want to do with their lives. “Make your life so awesome,” he said.
“I wish we were all here together to celebrate in person, but I’ve got to say that our class was too special for a normal graduation, anyway,” Tucker said.
Class Valedictorian Ian Wang said that it is no secret that the Class of 2020 is graduating into a difficult world – one that is faced with a terrible pandemic, climate change and social injustice.
That’s why it is more important than ever that he and his classmates stop comparing their differences – whether it is the color of their skin or the uniforms that they wear, Ian said.
“We should recognize our humanity. Yet as a nation, it feels like we are more divided than ever – and not just six feet apart divided,” Ian said.
“This was supposed to be our year, but we missed out on most of it. Unfortunately, this is not the first time or the last time that the facts are going to be stacked against us. Life just isn’t fair,” he said.
“There may be moments when you can’t change the world, but there will be moments when you can change the way you see it. Our stories are just beginning, so let’s go forth. We are at a great turning point in our lives and in history. Let’s make it a turn for the better,” Ian said.
Kevin Van Hise, the school board president and a graduate of Lawrence High School, said the seniors “entered the world in the shadow of the events of Sept. 11 . In one of our darkest hours, you provided a beam of light, joy and hope.”
The seniors “have done it again,” Van Hise said. The coronavirus has caused a substantial loss and society has been altered and fundamentally changed, yet through it all, “you have persevered with grace, enthusiasm, ingenuity and humor, and you have done it without complaining,” he said.
“COVID-19 does not define you or this year. Rather, you are the true story of 2020. So although karma may owe you – and it does owe you big time – never let it take away the fact that you have done it,” Van Hise said.
Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun agreed and said that everyone can make a difference every day. He challenged the seniors to continue to make a difference every single day.
At that point in the virtual graduation ceremony, several notable Lawrence High School alumni flashed across the screen to offer congratulations to the Class of 2020 – from retired professional football players Brett Bracket and Todd Brunner to Toronto Blue Jays Coach John Schneider.
Kim Hatchett, executive director of Morgan Stanley; playwright, author and producer Ifa Bayeza of the Class of 1968 – which was the first graduating class at Lawrence High School – and comedian, writer, producer and activist Jon Stewart also offered congratulations.
“Congratulations on the weirdest graduation any Lawrence High School class will ever have. I’m a Cardinal. I just missed you guys by 40 years. Congratulations and good luck,” said Stewart, who was known as Jonathan Leibowitz when he graduated in 1980.
Wrapping up the ceremony, class president Nabil Hachicha said he would have given anything to experience what their senior year should have been like, but unfortunate circumstances are often a blessing in disguise.
“It is now literally in our hands to change the community, to drive out systemic oppression, injustice and inequality. We now more than ever before must not let this fresh start to waste, Class of 2020,” Nabil said. “Don’t settle for anything less than the goals you set out for yourself. Use this as a chance to start from scratch.”