Hillsborough High School Class of 2020 honored with virtual graduation

Hillsborough High School Class of 2020 valedictorian Varun Deb is honored during the school's virtual graduation ceremony that was aired on June 22. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School Class of 2020 valedictorian Varun Deb is honored during the school's virtual graduation ceremony that was aired on June 22. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The backdrop of Hillsborough High School sees Principal Karen Bingert leading a host of school administrators and top-ranked students of the Class of 2020 into the school.

All of them are in their graduation attire, walking six feet apart from each other and wearing a mask with a capital H on it to symbolize Hillsborough High School.

Following them is a montage of students from the Class of 2020 walking in front of the school. Each graduate is shown walking by themselves with a mask to symbolize a normal graduation ceremony entrance.

This almost nine-minute intro is how the Hillsborough High School Class of 2020 virtual graduation ceremony began.

The ceremony was aired on the school’s YouTube account on June 22, the exact day the just shy of 600 students in the Class of 2020 were supposed to have their in-person graduation ceremony held at the school.

“Doing it this way enabled the school to celebrate the grads on their scheduled graduation date, give them the feel of many of the traditional elements, and still keep everyone socially distanced and safe,” Bingert said.

A video package that featured members of the Hillsborough High School band playing Pomp and Circumstance followed before Bingert welcomed everyone to the virtual event.

Senior members of the Hillsborough High School Choral Program then sang the national anthem and then the virtual graduation ceremony was off and running with speeches from class president Payton Altman, salutatorian Jacqueline Eschbach and valedictorian Varun Deb to follow.

Deb, who is also president of the Hillsborough High School Student Council, said it meant the world to him to represent the Class of 2020 as valedictorian, student council president and as an All-American athlete.

In his, as he describes “unique” speech, Deb used the quote “I never once let school get in the way of my education” from author Mark Twain as a way to express his message to his peers of paving their own paths with their high school days now behind them.

“I understand that not everyone liked high school and didn’t have the experience they wanted,” Deb said. “We don’t have to let the last four years define our lives. They have the opportunity now to pave their own path and create their own identity.”

Deb, who was a standout athlete on the school’s varsity football, wrestling and lacrosse programs, admits that the last few months have ”definitely” been tough for himself and his classmates, with them missing out on the fun senior activities and sports they were looking forward to during the last semester.

“They say high school is like toilet paper. You only miss it when it’s gone,” Deb said in his speech, regarding how much he and his classmates missed going to school when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Bingert echoed Deb’s message in her speech about the Class of 2020 creating their own path in the world because “they can never be anyone but themselves”.

The principal said she is very proud of how this group of seniors handled everything that was thrown at them with COVID-19 and how they pushed through to the end.

“Despite the disappointments, they have been wonderful, and I hope that their smiles of pride during filming for the virtual graduation were indicative of them feeling a sense of closure to their senior year and years as Hillsborough High School Raiders,” Bingert said.

Hillsborough Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Antunes and Board of Education President Lorraine Soisson also gave speeches during the event.

The ceremony ended with each member of the Class of 2020 being presented through their senior portrait as well as a video element of them picking up their diploma covers, saying their names, and then turning their tassels.

There was no contact between any person on stage and everyone stood six feet apart from each other, Bingert stated.

If a student decided not to participate in the event, a graphic of their senior portrait with their name would be placed on the screen.

Special video messages of good wishes from many of the teachers at Hillsborough High School capped the event.

With Gov. Phil Murphy allowing outdoor graduation ceremonies to be conducted starting July 6, an in-person graduation ceremony is in development, Bingert said.

Deb stated that an in-person graduation would be awesome and that a lot of students want a live graduation.

Everything the Class of 2020 has gone through with the pandemic proves in Deb’s mind that they’re the toughest class ever and that it will be something that will gel them together for future reunions.

“At the end of the day, the pandemic made us stronger,” Deb said. “It doesn’t define us, but will be something that we always remember.”