NEWARK, NJ — Gathered together — but socially distanced — for the first time since the coronavirus forced New Jersey school doors closed in March, the graduating seniors of Marion P. Thomas High Schools finally received the send-off they had been waiting for on Wednesday. 

A staff member primped each student before they walked across a stage decked out in yellow and blue to receive their diplomas. The charter school was the only high school in Newark to hold an in-person graduation ceremony for its 200 seniors, holding one ceremony at 10 a.m. and the second at 1 p.m. in compliance with state guidelines. 

Gov. Phil Murphy announced in June that up to 500 people can be in attendance for graduation ceremonies starting on July 6. Those at Marion P. Thomas on Wednesday wore face coverings as a mandatory part of their graduation uniform. 

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The rest of the city, including Newark Public School District’s traditional high schools, held virtual ceremonies out of concern for safety. Newark is the epicenter of the coronavirus in New Jersey, with more than 600 deaths and 7,836 confirmed cases.  

Chaleeta  Hines, Chief School Administrator for the charter school network, said although the staging a graduation ceremony under coronavirus regulations was an undertaking, it was worth the effort. 

“Challenges aren’t something we run away from. We heard student voice, and they wanted this, and they were patient with us,” Hines said. “I hope they understand what went into this and that we made this happen for them.” 

Newark Board of Education member A’Dorian Murray Thomas gave the keynote speech at the morning ceremony, and the second was delivered by former board member Marques-Aquil Lewis. Both speakers made history as two of the youngest members ever elected to the board. 

Shade Hyslop, the class salutatorian for Marion P. Thomas’ graduating class, commended staff and administration on a job well done. 

“I think the best part about being here is just seeing everybody,” she said.