CAMDEN, NJ — Anwar McCargo’s outfit said it all: a large pair of square-framed sunglasses, red fluffy slippers, a cap, gown, and don’t forget the face mask.
“I wanted to celebrate comfortably and match my school’s colors,” McCargo told TAPinto Camden as he marched with a banner in hand.
The 17-year-old Woodrow Wilson High School graduate was one of over 20 who took part in the Camden Grassroots Coalition’s Class of 2020 march Friday — in lieu of the school district solely hosting a virtual ceremony this year due to COVID-19.
Roughly 100 parents, community leaders, and fellow students, celebrated what students had achieved this year: all the trials and tribulations of the regular academic year with the added weight of a global pandemic.
More than a dozen cars — including a Cooper Hospital EMT vehicle and a Camden Fire Department truck — honked their horns prompting residents to head to their doors and applaud the students. School board members Nyemah Gillespie and Elton Custis were also in attendance.
With a drum line leading the way, a stream of students and cars headed from Woodrow Wilson High School down Federal Street to Farnham Park where plates of food and live music awaited.
Banners were held for Camden Big Picture Learning Academy, Pride Academy, Brimm Medical Arts High School, Woodrow Wilson High School, Creative Arts, Morgan Village Academy, and Camden High School.
But organizers said the event was meant to represent all graduates who did not have in-person ceremonies this year.
“The numbers don’t reflect the love,” Ronsha Dickerson said in acknowledging the modest pool of students arriving at the park.
As music blared, graduates took photos with parents, confetti was shot off from two cannons and toward the end of speeches attendees encircled the students to pray.
“We’re very proud of you as a city... You really deserve to be congratulated. You made it through a [pandemic], through losses, through tragedy,” said Nyzia Easterling, who runs a youth organization based out of Saving Grace Ministries in the city.
“From this point on God, we ask that you will be with the families that are represented from every graduate that stands before us. But we even ask that you will embrace the graduates that are not here today,” she continued.
Annetta Townsend brought her daughter, Zy'Ionna King to the event Friday, saying she felt it was important to “go beyond the virtual ceremony.”
“When I found out we weren't having an in-person graduation, I was disappointed,” said King, an 18-year-old Woodrow Wilson graduate. “I was hoping to be with all my friends and be together face to face. We have today at least, but I felt with face masks and keeping people six feet apart, it could have still happened.”
Although the city of Camden has been the hardest hit of any municipality in the county, Brenda Moyet and Hector Aponte - parents to a Brimm Medical Arts High School graduate — said multiple ceremonies could have solved that problem.
“We know of some school districts bigger than ours that were still able to celebrate in person,” Moyet said.
Their daughter, Dian Pagan, said she would make the best of the day and then focus on her future.
“After the summer, I plan to study business and if not criminal justice...we’ll see,” Pagan said, before she ran over to snap a photo with a friend.
Check out the 40-photo gallery above!