If there is any doubt whether the Class of 2020 got shortchanged because the COVID-19 pandemic ruined their commencements, one only needs to look at how things were handled at Kearny High School to know that was barely the case.
Over a nine-day period that ended Monday, June 15, more than 400 KHS graduates were treated to mini graduation ceremonies behind the school. And while it wasn’t like it usually is at the stadium on the football field, with thousands in attendance in the concrete stands, it certainly was personal.
Superintendent of Schools Patricia Blood devised the entire setup.
Graduates and their families were given assigned times for the mini-graduations. They lined up along King Street, just to the north of the building. When it was their time — they’d enter on the blacktop that separates the school from the stadium.
At the first stop, students would hand in their district-owned Chromebooks. They’d then wait a few minutes before moving ahead to a photo station, where they were greeted by the applauding Blood, KHS Principal Jackie Richardson and other admins on a rotating basis.
Both Blood and Richardson were present for every single student who was graduating.
Then it was off to take photos.
First, it was district webmaster and photography expert Bob Model who shot official photos. Then families could use their own cameras or phones to shoot more pics. It was all in front of a gigantic backdrop that was built by the school’s custodial staff with the words Class of 2020 emblazoned on it. The backdrop was black and the lettering was red — Kardinal colors — it was an immense and ideal piece of art.
Up to five family members were permitted to join the grads.
After the pics, the graduates were issued unofficial certificates that indicated they survived the Pandemic. Actual diplomas can’t be conferred until the final day of school, later this month, is over.
Then it was on to meeting Jane Mackesy, Ann Rodrigues and Kathy Santos, each representing the Kearny Coalition or Project Graduation, where they were given a goody bag, a T-shirt and an Amazon gift card. The coalition and Project Graduation were the sponsors.
Some then took photos in the stadium with the New York City skyline as the backdrop.
Others simply left via Garfield Avenue.
In all, it was a very moving experience — and to say it was personal is huge an understatement.
None of it could have happened were it not for the creativity of Blood, who designed the entire program.
While she’s probably exhausted now having spent nine days outside the high school, on some days that were pretty hot weather-wise, she and Richardson kept a smile on the entire time and an enthusiasm that doesn’t often come with spending long periods of time outdoors in extremely warm conditions.
And it was Blood who took the time to thank all those who helped her make this all possible.
“Special thanks to the people who made this possible: the high school administration, Ms. (Jackie) Richardson, Mr. (Justin) Avitable and Mr. (Paul) Measso; to Tammi Munro, the principal’s secretary, who scheduled all of our students for their cap and gown pick-ups and graduation time slots; to our webmaster Bob Model for taking over 1,000 pictures of our graduates and their families.
“Also to our HS photography teacher Erin Donnelly for renaming all of the pictures; to our security staff for manning the gates; to our PTA and Project Graduation committees, especially Ann Rodrigues and Jane Mackesy for distributing the graduation signs and gifts; and most especially to our Director of Plant Mark Bruscino and his maintenance and custodial crews who prepared the backdrop, flags and tents every day for the past nine days to make this year’s graduation so memorable,” the superintendent said.
And though they weren’t able to offer speeches to a throng assembled at the stadium, Blood took particular time to note and congratulate the major accomplishments of Valedictorian Ammar Ali Elshikh and Salutatorian Gabriel Nonato Dos Santos.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.