For a commencement exercise like none other, the New Rochelle High School Class of 2020 graduation brimmed with all that makes the day special – indomitable pride, cheers, photographs, and plenty of purple.
“It’s a bittersweet moment – a proud moment,” said Anijah Kee, who plans to study health and science at Mercy College.
A worldwide pandemic prevented the traditional ceremony that fills McKenna Field each June. But restrictions and cautions could not stop the parade of purple-robed graduates from marching on the grounds of their beloved school.
Following state guidelines, the administrators and teachers choreographed an afternoon-long ceremony on Thursday, June 25, that featured a caravan of cars (many festooned with balloons and signs) carrying graduates to a purple-and-white balloon arch in the teachers’ parking lot off Clove Road. The families then kept pace in their vehicles while the students, wearing purple face masks, marched down a gauntlet of glory basking in their moment.
Along the walk, faculty members cheered them on with signs of congratulations. The one held by
Tilsa Rodriguez-Gonzalez, the Supervisor of Physical Education and Health, r
ead: “Can’t mask our pride!”
At the halfway point, graduates picked up diploma covers and were congratulated by Board of Education President Amy Moselhi, Board member William Iannuzzi, Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo, and Interim Principal Joseph Starvaggi. Each graduate posed for a (maskless) photo in front of a purple backdrop, then continued down the walk to for a second photograph taken with Huguenot Lake in the background where their family vehicle was waiting for them to re-board.
“It was nice that they put this together so we could graduate properly,” said graduate Anna Kessler.
When it was done, some even said they preferred aspects of the ceremony to the traditional commencement, including the setup that allowed parents in their cars to drive near to where their children were receiving the awards.
“They need something to smile about,” said Aisha Washington, whose son Marrell Rivera graduated. “It’s a good way to close the senior year, considering what they’ve endured.”
After the procession, some newly minted alumni reflected how they got through their challenges including the worldwide Coronavirus COVID 19 crisis that left school buildings closed and classmates physically distant during the final months.
“The class pulled together,” said graduate Layden Vanderberg. “We found ways around the virus in order to make sure we had a fun year and stayed together.”
“We were a resilient group,” said Kessler. “We were very determined. We just persevered through everything.”
Even in the days leading up to the event, students were mentally preparing for a new kind of ceremony.
"It's exciting to say goodbye to this place in our own special way," senior Skyler Edwards said as she picked up her cap and gown at the school on Monday. “You have to roll with things and we've dealt with it. We went through the grieving process about what we've missed, like the prom and class trip. We had to process, we're fine now."