Emotions run high as Woodbridge’s three high schools hold in-person graduations

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WOODBRIDGE – Emotions swirled as Woodbridge High School Principal Glenn Lottmann learned he couldn’t attend the high school’s Class of 2020 in-person graduation due to the coronavirus.

“I was really upset and honestly I didn’t know how to handle the bad news,” he told the class during their graduation on July 8; he called into the ceremony via phone which was broadcast over the intercom.

Lottmann said he decided to follow the Class of 2020’s example of demonstrating a high level of maturity in the midst of the global pandemic.

“Thank you for providing as a role model and for making me a better person,” he said, adding he will miss the Class of 2020 as they move on to the next chapter of their lives.

The Class of 2020 for Woodbridge Township School District’s three high schools – Colonia High School, John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial High School and Woodbridge High School – graduated on their respective football fields.

Colonia High School and Woodbridge High School graduations were held on July 8. JFK Memorial High School’s graduation was moved to July 9 because of the weather.

The graduations were broadcast live on social media for family and friends of the graduates.

The graduates, who sat six feet apart in their caps and gowns, were joined by their respective principals, Kenneth Pace at Colonia High and Paul Postorino at JFK Memorial High. Assistant Superintendent Joseph Massimino attended all the graduations on behalf of Schools Superintendent Robert Zega, who had to miss the in-person graduations due to a family matter. He was joined by Mayor John E. McCormac, members of the Township Council, and members of the Woodbridge Board of Education.

The Class of 2020 valedictorian and salutatorian for Woodbridge High School, Helen Loda and Daniel Tajes, addressed their classmates at the graduation.

“The end of the year was eventful, to say the least, with distance learning and quarantine,” Helen said. “The important thing is we survived. [The year] 2020 has been one heck of a ride and although it isn’t over yet, we’ve experienced the drawback of a global pandemic, educated ourselves on individual rights, attended marches and a select few even organized a march. The fact that we are so intellectual as people is amazing and I think we should be proud of that.”

Daniel said the scarce resource of hope can be found within oneself and all the possibilities that lie in one’s future.

“Our collective future as a generation gives me hope from the pandemic to Black Lives Matter, from gun control to environmentalism, from LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) rights to gender equality, and from mental awareness to immigration reform,” he said. “There are so many causes … the craziest thing is we have already begun to see our generation make a difference in our world. That should instill hope in all of you as much as it does in me. … We have the power to create hope and see change.”

The Class of 2020 valedictorian and salutatorian for Colonia High School are Harsh Patel and Amy Fernandez, respectively. Amy addressed her class during the graduation.

“This year has been undeniably our own,” she said. “We are on a brink of a revolution. We are history. I welcome you to look at this experience not as a graduation solely amidst a pandemic and systemic racism, but as a graduation amidst an era of change.”

Amy urged her fellow classmates to find “inspirations and passion” in everything they do.

“Our lives don’t end here, they are merely beginning,” she said.

The Class of 2020 valedictorian and salutatorian for JFK Memorial High School, Fauzan Amjad and Ryan Ramirez, addressed their classmates at the graduation.

Fauzan urged his classmates to promise to never stop learning, never stop loving and always see the best in individuals.

Ryan said everyone has persevered through the hardships and it’s now time to look toward to the future.

Postorino asked the Class of 2020 to change the narrative of “I can’t wait for this to be over and return to normal,” a statement he has heard repeatedly since the global pandemic began.

“I agree with the first part of the statement [however] I do not wish for the return to normal,” he said. “Today I’m asking all of you to change the narrative and make the statement ‘I can’t wait for this to be over so we can return better than before.’”

Postorino said pursuit of happiness for the Class of 2020 comes when they focus on their fulfillment.

“The time away from friends, family and JFK Memorial High School did not stop the Class of 2020 from moving forward and if you can overcome a global pandemic before you graduate from high school, I’m excited to see what a million dreams by the Class of 2020 will make,” he said.

In June, central administration, principals and members of the Woodbridge Board of Education made the decision to hold live in-person graduations after Gov. Phil Murphy announced modified in-person events or drive-in graduations could be held starting on July 6.

The in-person graduations provided much socially distant “pomp and circumstance.” After the speeches, the names of each graduate were announced and each graduate stood up to be recognized.

The links for the live graduations are on the district’s website, www.woodbridge.k12.nj.us.