SPARTA, NJ – Sparta High School students get to graduate twice this year.  As the traditional ceremony is not possible the school and district administrators initially made plans for a virtual graduation with videos created by students and staff, woven together for a one of a kind ceremony.

Once it was announced in-person graduations could be held and the limits on outdoor gatherings eased, the district began to plan a ceremony on the new turf field.  The limits, however, mean there will be two outdoor ceremonies, dividing the class in half with each graduate getting two tickets for spectators.

“This is definitely not how we had imagined graduation would be,” Class of 2020 Salutatorian David Rubin said.

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President of the Class of 2020 Aidan Mastandrea said he envisioned giving his speech at the first graduation ceremony to be held on the new turf field, not in his basement using his dad’s workbench as a podium. After reciting a list of things they missed out on, he said, “We expected a lot more fanfare, and after 13 years of doing all the things we love here, we deserve a lot more fanfare.”

“Instead of dwelling on the disappointments, we need to look at it this way, we are the class of 2020,” Mastandrea said.  “We will be going in the history books.  Our grandchildren will be learning about the year the entire country shut down.  We are going to get to tell them we lived and graduated through it…We are going to be known as that class that didn’t get to finish their senior year.

“I think our class has always been a bit unconventional,” Mastandrea said.  “We entered the world during 9/11 and graduated during a pandemic.  You can’t get much more unique than that. Maybe in spite of or because of those things I don’t think there is another group of people more capable of supporting, celebrating and loving each other through disappointment and turning it into something positive.”

“In years ahead, we will look back on this and realize that we are a unique part of history,” Executive Student Council President Gregory Puszcz said. “There will not another class that will have a graduation like this so let’s make it ours and ours only.”  

Valedictorian Alan Young, congratulated his class for reaching another milestone, “leaving childhood.” He listed innovations that have come to be “Facebook and every social media app, YouTube, iPhone and Netflicks, can you imagine our lives without these…. In terms of entertainment we could not be living in a better time.  But when it comes to real problem solving I don’t’ think we can get worse than where we are now.”

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Sparta High School Principal Ronnie Spring said, “’Intelligence plus character, that is the true goal of education.’ This class has truly achieved that goal and epitomized that quote.”

Spring spoke of all areas in which the students have performed.

“Your intelligence has shined as you reached amazing heights academically, in your many clubs and activities and in athletics,” Spring said. “However even with such amazing accomplishments, it has been your character that has truly defined you as a class. Through the good times and the challenges and man have we had to go through some unprecedented challenges lately, you are always there to support each other, empathize with each other, cheer for each other and push each other… You truly are Spartan Strong.”

Recognizing “it takes a village to raise a child,” Puszcz thanked parents, teachers, the municipality and medical workers who put their safety above all.  “Everyone who has helped to shape us into the men and women we are today,” Puszcz said. “We have accomplished much and impacted many.”

In remembering all teachers from preschool through senior year, Young asked his classmates to think of a fondest memory with a teacher. “Whether you admit it or not your teachers had an effect on how you think and how you act today,” Young said.  He spoke of learning skills that were not just academic but  “useful for my future success in the workplace.”

Young recalled the impact teachers and advisors had on him.  “It was because of every person that took time out of their day to run a club or assist me that I was able to earn the best experiences and awards of my school career.  With everyone’s dedication I was able to including New Jersey Governor’s School for Engineering and Technology and the top award in academia, the Presidential Scholars in Career and Technical Education.”

Rubin had tangible advice for his classmates, based on his insights gained from the pandemic stay at home situation.

“I want to leave you all with something more powerful than ‘good luck’,” Rubin said, sharing the lessons he learned through this pandemic.  He said he had “chosen to look for the good, the positive lessons aspects of this pandemic.”

He addressed three lessons: there is no action too small, be kind and go with the flow.

Referencing Rachel Platten’s  “Fight Song” from “sixth grade, the one about the small boat on the ocean sending waves into motion” this pandemic began with “one small infection that little boat on the ocean and skyrocketed into something hugely impactful.”

“You can have a great impact no matter how small the action you take is,” Rubin said. “One gesture of respect can lead to lifelong relationships, one act of service can have an immense impact on your community, one kind word can stick with someone forever.”

The lesson to “be kind” came from the March 12 last day of school, Rubin said.  If he had known it would be the last day he would have seen all of his classmates he may have hugged friends tighter, given more compliments and smile more freely.

As for “go with the flow,” Rubin said, “in the wise words of Katie Perry, after the hurricane comes a rainbow.  High school may have come to a close with a hurricane but the rest of our lives is that rainbow.”

1988 Sparta High School alumni Chris Jent address the class.  “Be a part of the change that is needed around us,” Jent said. “Help this country grow be pioneers moving forward like true Spartans.”

Young shared thoughts about the how his classmates need to view the future, thoughts that belie his intended course of study, aerospace engineering. 

“Where will humanity be thriving, we are shortsighted nothing will improve and we will still be chugging along towards stagnation,” Young said. “If we take a proactive stance, solving problems before they become problems then we are securing a future not just for us but for those that come after us. Those that have come before us are stuck in the present.  But we don’t live for the present, we live for the future.”

“Take the risks that are needed,” Young said. “It may not be the most advantageous monetarily but it often times is necessary for the future of civilization itself.”

“One thing the pandemic taught us is that you never know what tomorrow will bring,” Mastandrea said.

“The COVID-19 virus may have separated us physically, but nothing can destroy the spirit our class carries with us in our hearts,” Puszcz said.

“I often say and honestly believe it is the senior class who sets the tone for a high school,” Spring said.  “I want to thank you for the amazing tone you have set throughout this year and your entire high school careers.”

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