LIVINGSTON, NJ — Confetti replaced the diplomas this year at Livingston High School’s (LHS) onsite graduation ceremony, where the 489 members of the Class of 2020 came together in person one last time earlier this week despite officially graduating in June.

Days after Gov. Phil Murphy increased the outdoor gathering limit to 500 people, Livingston Public Schools offered seniors the opportunity to visit the high school turf with their classmates for a celebration unlike anything LHS has ever seen. Given the choice between being separated into three groups with each graduate receiving two admission tickets or bringing the entire class together with no audience due to the capacity restrictions, LHS seniors opted to celebrate the milestone with their classmates while their families watched the event via live broadcasts that were streamed on the LPS Facebook page and LTV.

As the graduates sat a safe distance apart—many of them FaceTiming each other during the informal ceremony—LHS Principal Mark Stern praised them for the positive attitude with which they faced this unprecedented senior year.

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Reiterating the “great perspective” that the entire Livingston community has gained this year due to the pandemic, Stern urged the seniors to “maintain and build the sense of community and perseverance” they have established at LHS, to “value time with loved ones” and to “never ever take a high five, pat on the back or hug for granted.”

“We cannot always choose the context in which we find ourselves, but we do get to choose the attitude with which we face it,” he said. “Class of 2020, we cannot thank you enough—you were outstanding this year.

“Resiliency is a remarkable life attribute that you embodied throughout the year. You allowed your routines and high school experience be interrupted and altered with great patience an appreciation; you took care of our school community by demonstrating true kindness, support and acceptance for one another and our staff; and I could not be prouder of you. On behalf of the Lancer community, I wish you all the best as you begin life after high school.”

Wednesday morning’s ceremony was the culmination of several graduation events, which began on June 1 with a surprise delivery of their caps and gowns and continued later in the month with a three-day event that LPS dubbed “My Graduation Moment.” In the days leading up to their virtual graduation ceremony on June 25, “My Graduation Moment” provided an opportunity for the seniors to safely receive their diplomas and take photos with family members and LPS administrators on the turf of their soon-to-be alma mater.

The community at-large also participated in the June 25 celebrations with a town-wide “clap out” that LPS organized in conjunction with the township encouraging residents to “step out and make noise” at the culmination of the virtual ceremony.

Since the virtual ceremony featured the typical lineup of speakers—including the valedictorian, salutatorians and class officers—holding a second graduation in person allowed LHS to stray from tradition and invite additional students to address their classmates.

Keynote speaker Victoria Hostetler, who graduated with honors, shared her personal experience of being quarantined with several family members who contracted COVID-19 and discussed the ways in which the remote learning program and technology in general helped her get through the days in isolation.

Her full speech, which was met with thunderous applause and cheers from her classmates, can be read below:

“We are a generation of screens. We are a generation that truly has the whole world at our fingertips, densely packed into devices large and small. Some people scold us for confusing FaceTime with true face-to-face time, but they are wrong. Yes, we are a generation of screens; but more than that, we are a generation of connection…

“We use technology as a resource for growing our bonds with others, and it is only ever a supplement to our lives beyond the screens. We know that true friendships are formed when we can see each other’s smiles and walk next to each other way closer than six feet apart in the tornado that is A Hall. We never considered Zoom to be a sufficient alternative.

“Quarantine has tested us. Maybe it tested your relationships and probably your patience. Perhaps it tested your ability to sleep earlier than 3 a.m., and quite possibly, it tested your mental health and maybe even your physical health.

“When my mom contracted COVID-19 back in March, and then my younger brother, then my dad, then my older brother—it was isolating. I would spend all day in my room, seeing my family for only a few minutes each day. But because the only face-to-face interactions I was allowed to have were taken from me, I learned to truly appreciate human connection.

“It was during this time that I truly appreciated the capabilities of technology in enabling me to connect with my friends and family regardless of our locations. It was during this time that I truly appreciated my teachers and classmates who, without knowing it, served as a constant support in my life by being simply that—constant.

“Even beyond the celebration of our accomplishments over the last 13 years of school—and, believe me, they are many—this moment is a celebration of connection. Half of our faces may be covered, but here it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because we know each other—we know each other’s faces, we’ve seen each other’s smiles, and we’ve heard each other’s voices without the muffle of a mask.

"We have run on the fields together and sang on the stage together; we have stayed up until 2 a.m. studying together and admittedly failed a test or two together; we have laughed together, cried together and now, more than ever before, FaceTimed each other.

“But today we sit together, we stand together, we walk together, [and] we celebrate this moment together because we have trekked the hills and valleys of high school together. To us, this moment means more than it did to classes before because we have learned to appreciate what it means to be together.

“It is more than just a physical proximity. To be together was to be supportive of each other during what may have been the most isolating part of our lives. To be together is to be encouraging for each other as we step into what might be the biggest unknown of our lives. And to be together will be to be excited about each other as we achieve the greatest accomplishments of our lives.

“Livingston High School Class of 2020, may we never forget this moment. May we never forget empathy and compassion—the things that connect us to each other. May we never forget to look behind the screens, beyond the screens. May we never forget to value the face-to-face time. And may we not forget to FaceTime each other as we part ways in a few months. Because, hey, six feet or 600 miles—what’s the difference?”

The graduation ceremony can be viewed in its entirety at any time BY CLICKING HERE.

CLICK HERE to read the coverage and see photos from the virtual graduation ceremony and other celebratory events.

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