A ceremony of firsts
For the first time in over twenty years, John Jay High School’s seniors did not graduate at the Venetian Theater at Caramoor. Due to social distancing mandates required because of COVID-19, the Class of 2020's Commencement was shaped so that family units could be contained in cars. The reimagined celebration was staged in the parking lot of the Jefferson Valley Mall.
Commencement 2020 merged timeless traditions with personal new additions. Caramoor’s elegance was supplanted by casual, out-of-the-box creativity and the camaraderie of breaking new ground together. Honking horns replaced applause. Featured speakers were projected onto 28’ x 12’ screens and broadcast on FM radio - drive-in movie style.
Underlying it all was the stirring pride and sense of summation that seniors and their families and teachers experience each year.
Grads rolled in on festive wheels!
Adaptability emerged as a key theme
“This is a radically different commencement ceremony than what we all are accustomed to,” acknowledged Principal Steven Siciliano in his opening remarks. “And yet, we are all here to acknowledge our seniors’ accomplishments and conduct this important rite of passage for them."
He spoke from a portable podium to a sea of pickups, convertibles, sports cars and sedans festooned with balloons and streamers and messages of congratulations written on back windows.
Adaptability emerged as a key theme in the speeches for the Class of 2020.
"it’s our turn to change the world!"
Dr. Siciliano reminded the graduates that one of their defining characteristics was adjusting to new normals. The seniors were born at a time when the nation was reeling in the aftermath of 9/11 and their K-12 years were filled with ever-present tragedies and concerns associated with school safety. Now, as they were graduating, the country and world wondered about the right way to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When the answers aren’t clear or the right direction isn’t self-apparent, you will improvise until they are,” Dr. Siciliano told the graduates.
Salutatorian Sydney Aronson highlighted the adaptability the quarantine tested in her fellow seniors. “When all of this began, we didn’t know how we would possibly live in a world where we had to be six feet apart from people and not go to people’s houses and so on, but every single one of us adapted.”
Amid references to "High School Musical" and "Grey’s Anatomy," Valedictorian Jessica Leff challenged her peers to leadership—to take stands that call for others to adapt.
“We can decide how to adapt to changes that come our way, and make the best of a seemingly difficult situation,” said Jessica. “We can choose when to act, when to fight, and when to take a stand. And lastly, we can and must take charge of our own future. Right now, it’s our turn to change the world.”
Old and New Traditions
Tradition held, where possible. Senior class co-presidents Sebastien Degenhardt and Charles Oestricher presented the Key of Knowledge. A new twist on tradition: the school’s a cappella groups performed, albeit this year through prerecorded videos.
An exciting innovation to come out of social distance constraints was the digital Presentation of the Class of 2020. Because the graduates were not able to cross the stage as their names were read, each senior had an opportunity to create a five-second video. The montage of shorts shown on the big screens included messages of thanks, announcements of next year’s plans, as well as a students shaking hands with their elementary school mascot, plunging into a swimming hole, doing skateboarding moves and more!
Graduation Tassels turn together!
Then the graduates stepped out of the vehicles and as a group moved their tassels to a cacophony of car horns!
“We had such an AWESOME day!” said Kim Touzeau, mom of senior Ashton. “My family thought this was so much better than the typical graduation."
“What a wonderful day! Memories to last a lifetime,” said Catharine Oestricher, mom of senior Charlie. “Congrats to the Class of 2020!”