Like the majority of the local school districts, the COVID-19 outbreak forced the Newfield Central School District to alter its plans for the graduation ceremony of the class of 2020.
Instead of holding an in-person ceremony in the school’s auditorium, the district set up a stage and chairs in the district parking lot on June 26. The 45 graduating seniors sat in front of the stage in chairs that were separated six feet apart from one another, while their families sat behind them in their cars.
Class salutatorian Devon Parente welcomed those in attendance this past Friday. Parente will be attending Elmira College this coming fall to study Bio-Chemistry. She, like all of the other speakers that day, talked about the challenges this year’s graduating class has endured with the outbreak. She urged her classmates to focus on their triumphs over the past few months as well as the past school year as a whole.
“Let us not forget our class won our first pep rally ever back in October,” Parente said. “Who would’ve thought that that victory would come to serve as a metaphor for the strength, perseverance and unity of our class. During the lockdown, we not only surmounted much greater obstacles, but we came through it stronger. I know that sounds cliche, but I don’t think that there’s a single person at this ceremony that would deny it.”
“We should also not focus on all that we have lost because there is so much yet to be gained. … The future of the world is still uncertain, and it will never go back to the way it was before, for better or worse. It has been said that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. However, it is also guaranteed that there will challenges ahead. I love that we are all certain that we will be able to face them head on and conquer them. We are better prepared for the future as we are secure in the knowledge that no matter what life throws at us, we are ready to take it on.”
Class valedictorian Max Grochocinski, who will be attending the University of Toronto this coming fall to study linguistics, also gave a speech. Grochocinski acknowledged how the community was able to come together during the pandemic.
“It is through events such as this graduation and the community-sponsored senior parade that we had that we can begin to stitch together what the events of this year have tragically torn apart. Consider, for example, the drama club; the selfless participation of so many friends and neighbors yielded something that was equal parts school play and community theater. While tragically we were unable to perform this year, I hope that the inner thespian in all of us continues to bring joy through art.”
High school history teacher Charles Githler was the guest speaker at the ceremony. Githler compared this year’s class to the generations of people who lived through periods such as the Great Depression and World War II and the Vietnam War.
“You guys know what panic looks like now; you’ve seen it,” Githler said. “You’ve seen how quickly things can just change. … There’s no substitute for living a thing. You’ve lived this thing. You’re brain can register it. … But if you’ve lived it you get it.”
“I hope when you’re answering the question in 2070 ‘what was it like back in 2020,’ after you listed all the bad things, maybe mention that a little adversity could be a good thing in the long run. And certainly mention how this community came together, the Newfield community, as they always do, and the class of 2020 off in style.”
Following the issuing of the diplomas to each of the seniors, high school principal Patrick Mahunik offered some final remarks to those in attendance.
“Make the world a better place; be good to people; make it a better place not only for my dad’s grandkids, my kids, my nieces and nephews, but for every grandkid and every child,” Mahunik said. “You are the generation that can turn this all around. There’s no doubt in my mind that you can make that happen.”