BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Despite what some members of the public may believe, no live graduation ceremony for Bridgewater-Raritan High School’s Class of 2020 has yet been finalized for this summer at TD Bank Ballpark, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Bridgewater resident Sandra Lowrey said at a recent board of education meeting that she still expects a graduation ceremony to be held at the home of the Somerset Patriots baseball club, while another resident asked why the graduates couldn’t be split into smaller groups.
Student Allison Lowrey said the Patriots had made a generous offer, and the board should accept it, as the senior class was deserving of a ceremony. She added she didn’t believe that all the members of the school board had the best interests of the class in mind, and were doing the “bare minimum” regarding graduation.
“I don’t want to think I was cheated of my graduation ceremony,” she finished.
Questions were also brought up about monies that had been raised by the Class of 2020, and where they had gone.
Superintendents Russell Lazovick, who will be leaving the district to become principal at Ridge High School on July 1, replied that the district has been planning for graduation since September 2019, and has also been working on multiple fronts towards that goal.
Lazovick added that he had made an announcement three times prior that the Patriots did not have a plan that had been approved by the township for the re-opening of their stadium. He added that the district is trying to use the stadium as an opportunity for graduation, although such gatherings have been limited by the state to no more than 500 individuals, as of July 6.
For a graduation, that number does not mean 500 graduates — the 500 also includes police officers and firefighters, along with other personnel, and graduation would have to be run through some five times to handle all the members of the graduating class.
“Our planning may come to naught,” said Lazovick.
He said the district is not holding back, and that it will be safer to work things through with the Patriots. Earlier in the meeting, Lazovick said the Patriots were still on board with the idea of holding graduation at the stadium, and that it is hoped that both a date and a rain date could be set, although that information will come from high school principal Charles Ezell.
Lazovick said it is understood that the seniors want to graduate with their friends, and that the plan is to have two graduation ceremonies, featuring one-half of the Class of 2020 in each one. He said he would like to have the full class together, along with a live stream of the event online so that seniors could graduate as one, but cautioned that guidance from the governor has not changed, despite some changes in numbers allowed in gatherings.
Lazovick said that any live graduation ceremony could not feature shared microphones, and would also have less speakers, including speeches made by the class valedictorian and school board members, among other adjustments from a regular in-person graduation. He added that he has met with representatives of other school districts in the county twice per week, and that only Franklin Township has set a date so far. He also said ceremonies such as that were more akin to “drive-by photographic opportunities,” whereby students walked across the field, received their diplomas and then left the area immediately.
He reiterated that the Bridgewater-Raritan district is trying to schedule two live graduation dates at present, in mid-to-late July, and that the longer it waits, the more likely it could have more individuals in attendance.
“This is a time like no other,” said the superintendent. “We’re working to get together before we move on to the next stage.”
As for finances, Lazovick said those would be made public with business administrator Peter Starrs. He added that students could not get their prom deposits back, but that monies had been rolled over to 2021 and then subsequently rolled back to 2020.
“No one lost money (in that respect),” said Lazovick.
School board member Ann Marie Mead said it was now a little bit clearer as to all the different things the district was doing. She said she knows that things are “very difficult,” and that the more options the better.
Lazovick said administrators are still sorting things out, regarding a one-stop informational page on the district web site, although social media has made it sound like certain things were a done deal. Mead said there was some frustration, which had prompted some concerns, and she knew that things were changing daily.
Lazovick said the biggest thing is establishing two dates.
Mead inquired about the questions regarding finances, and Lazovick replied that Ezell had been working on three plans —transportation, graduation and closing down the high school for the summer — and that not all accounts were student-active accounts.
School board president Jackie Barlow asked about mid-to-late July for a potential graduation, and Lazovick responded that it depends on stadium availability.
“Every single plan is for the largest number (possible),” he said regarding potential attendees.
He added that those plans could be modified, and that there might have to be up to six ceremonies to graduate the whole class, although nothing could be entertained until at least July 6, when state restrictions would be modified.
School board member Barry Walker asked how long the approval process would take, and Lazovick said a plan had to be submitted seven days in advance.
“We want to be flexible,” said Lazovick.
He also said that something has to be forwarded in draft form to the county superintendent. He added that was all while the district also performed its normal duties in June, and prepared to shut down its school buildings in the current coronavirus environment.
“Issues come up every day,” said Lazovick.
He also said the district is getting its news from the governor the same time the rest of the public does.
He said, in response to a question from board member Lynne Hurley, that there is a tentative window now for a high school graduation, although circumstances continue to change daily, and students have said that “August won’t fly.” Most of them will be preparing for or entering college, the work force or the military by that time.
Lazovick added that people are also making vacation and other plans for the summer, and might be traveling. He also said it might be possible to admit more than two attendees per graduate, if circumstances work out.
Barlow expressed her thanks to Lazovick and the administration for their efforts.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” she said. “I know you’re doing your best to make it happen.”