The Vernon Township High School principal, Dr. Pauline Anderson, said administrators decided in mid-April to do “everything possible” to have an in-person graduation. They just weren’t sure how to make it happen.
“We heard the voice of our students, and they did not want a virtual graduation,” she said.
The school came up with a three-day virtual conglomeration of awards and a video showcasing the seniors, to be followed by a “virtual celebration” on June 30. An in-person graduation -- government willing -- will be held on the football field in August.
“We came up with the date of August 5th for the in-person graduation so that we could do it before kids go off to college,” Anderson said.
Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy said schools will have the opportunity, starting July 6, to hold socially distanced graduation ceremonies outdoors.
Anderson said students preferred an August celebration rather than a commencement on June 30.
“It’s not the end, it’s a preamble to August’s graduation,” she said. “The 30th should have been the last day of school, and it will be structured akin to a graduation, but myself, our valedictorian, salutatorian, and other speakers will tone their speeches as a celebration of the class rather than a graduation.”
Prior to the celebration, the school will hold its Viking Awards for athletes virtually on June 8. Academic awards will be distributed virtually on Scholarship Night, June 9. A virtual video of the senior class will be screened on social media on June 10.
Listening to students
The student council president, Nicholas Zinno, was an integral part of creating this video. He took pictures along with fellow seniors Cody Williams and Sebastian Grau. Williams is editing the video.
Zinno has nothing but gratitude for the school’s attentiveness, in listening to what the student body wanted and holding out for an in-person graduation.
“I personally really like what they are doing,” he said. He’s a big supporter of an in-person graduation. “I think that everyone should be able to hear their name called and go up on stage and go back to their parents with their diplomas,” he said.
Zinno will be attending Stevens Institution of Technology in the fall. Though he had to miss Vernon’s baseball season this spring, he will be trying out for the Stevens team.
“We wanted our students to know that we are holding on to hope in Vernon,” Anderson said of the planned in-person graduation. “Right now we are watching for further guidance as we are currently limited to 25 people in a gathering and we have 230 graduates. They left our school on March 13th suddenly and unexpectedly. We want them to be on that football field together one more time.”
The graduation will be on the field, socially distanced, and altered a bit. Having the school band perform will probably not be allowed.
There will also be a prom. Joe Hession, a Vernon graduate and the owner of Mountain Creek Resort, has offered an all-expense-paid prom at Red Tail Lodge. It’s planned for August, but if that’s too soon, the school also booked the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The school is also sending out a link through allowing students in all four grades to sign yearbooks virtually.
“This is a really special class, so we are doing all we can to grant their wishes with an in-person graduation,” Anderson said. “Our Student Life Committee and the board of education have been great in helping facilitate this.”
Updates from other schools
At Kittatinny Regional High School, graduation plans are moving forward but are still in the works.
At Newton High School, the principal, Jeff Waldron, said, “We will broadcast our virtual graduation ceremony for all students on June 17th and also plan an outdoor ceremony that complies with social distancing guidelines in July for any senior family wishing to attend.”
“Everyone should be able to hear their name called and go up on stage and go back to their parents with their diplomas.” --Nicholas Zinno, student council president