DENVILLE, NJ -- With the COVID-19 pandemic canceling or changing community events, some special ceremonies have been held differently.

On June 23, Morris Knolls High School held a virtual ceremony for its graduating Class of 2020. On July 15, the school held a second ceremony for its 392 graduates; this time in-person on Caruso Field. With everyone properly socially distanced and wearing face coverings, the ceremony lasted a little more than an hour, with a few speeches and graduates taking the platform one-by-one for diplomas and pictures.

This year, the Class of 2020 was represented by valedictorian Helen Cedzidlo, from Denville, who plans to attend Tufts University in September, and salutatorian Michael Scornavacca, also from Denville, who will begin his freshman year at Princeton University this fall.

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“I decided to forgo a formal speech and instead I will share two simple, but profound pieces of advice for you all,” said Principal Ryan MacNaughton.

“Advice that comes from the heroes in my own life: my mother and father. I share them with my own children and thought it would be fitting to share them with you all today at your graduation. Lesson number one: believe in yourself. Success is that simple. If you don’t believe in yourself, then who will believe in you. Each and every one of you are unique. There is no one like you. You have so much potential that if you have not realized that during your high school experience at Knolls, then do it now as you take on the next phase of your life. Are you going to be the very few who stands up as things are tough? And when everything is going against you? Will you be able to believe in what’s right? That’s when your character will shine.”

“Lesson number two: never give up. My parents instilled in me the wisdom of Winston Churchill who said, ‘never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.’ All of you will face adversity. Let’s face it, that is life. As you witnessed in your senior year, you will be tested time and time again. You will fail. You will struggle whether it be in a relationship, in a job, in your family, in your health, it is how you deal with that struggle, that will define you. When faced with adversity, the easy thing to do is quit and give in. If you do what is easy, then life becomes hard. As C.S. Lewis stated, ‘Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny. Graduates, what is your destiny?’”

While pondering their destinies, the Morris Knolls graduates reveled in having some sort of normal graduation ceremony. For many, it was bittersweet yet still a fun and proper farewell to their four years of high school.

“This graduation is good closure,” said 18-year-old graduate Isha Patel, from Denville.

“It’s important to have our final moment together. I think it's respectful that a lot of effort was put into this event, and it shows how much our community cares about us.”

Patel will be heading to Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, to major in pharmacy.

“The excitement can be felt everywhere here, and I'm happy to be with my friends,” said Patel.

Members of the Project Graduation Committee set up a special picnic area near the high school’s back parking lot, with a snow cone truck, games and DJ music, for the graduates to hang out and celebrate.

“I’m happy to be part of Project Graduation, and to be here today, but saddened that their senior year had to end this way,” said Denville resident and parent, Ann Vitiello. “I’m excited to see what the future holds for these bright young men and women.”

Vitiello witnessed her 18-year-old twin sons Anthony and Gerard Varanelli graduate. Anthony will be attending The College of New Jersey and plans to major in special education, while Gerard is off to Monmouth University to study business and accounting.

Pictures and videos of the in-person graduation ceremony will be posted on the school's website.


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