LIVINGSTON, NJ — After weeks of wondering what graduation would look like for the Class of 2020 as Gov. Phil Murphy continues to ease gathering restrictions, the Livingston community heard solidified plans from Superintendent Dr. Matthew Block during Monday’s Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting.
In addition to the virtual ceremony being held on June 25, Livingston High School (LHS) will also host an in-person ceremony on site in July with all graduates present, provided that the governor is able to expand the outdoor gathering limit to 500 people by July 3 as expected.
Although guidelines have been constantly changing since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, making it difficult to make any definitive plans to give this year’s graduates a deserving send-off, the LHS graduation planning committee has prepared for various scenarios. Directed by Assistant Superintendent Lisa Capone-Steiger, the committee organized plans ranging from a virtual-only ceremony to in-car, socially distanced and in-person ceremony alternatives.
“The high school has planned and re-planned and planned again for end-of-year celebrations for our high school seniors as the parameters have shifted,” said Block. “This has been a challenge.”
At the commencement of the remote-learning period in March, the planning of an in-person graduation with all of the accompanying logistics had been well underway.
When it became clear a few weeks later that remote learning would likely not be a temporary situation, Block said the district began considering the various potential alternatives.
Shortly after Murphy prohibited any graduation plans involving vehicle drive-by or wave parade scenarios in early May, the governor revised his executive order to allow for such ceremonies provided that certain safety and social-distancing guidelines were adhered to.
By the end of that month, Murphy announced that in-person graduations would be permitted outdoors after July 6 with restrictions that included limitations on size and duration and prohibited the exchange of physical items such as diplomas.
The accompanying guidelines in New Jersey limited outdoor gatherings to 25 people at the time, setting plans in motion for nearly 20 individual in-person ceremonies to accommodate Livingston’s graduating class of approximately 480 students. According to Block, these parameters presented a challenge for the planning committee on how to host so many ceremonies in a meaningful way.
On June 12, Murphy further relaxed the guidelines for outdoor gatherings to accommodate 250 people beginning on June 22 and anticipated being able to expand the gathering limitation to up to 500 people by June 3.
In anticipation of the expanded 500-person limit just in time for the July 6 graduations that will be permitted to take place, Livingston High School (LHS) surveyed the seniors to determine whether they preferred a ceremony with all graduates and no guests or three individual ceremonies of roughly 126 graduates each with two tickets per graduate.
“After a lot of discussion, it was determined that the graduation needed to be about the students,” said Block. “They have been the ones who have endured this challenging senior year and they deserved to have input into what their ceremony would look like. So we surveyed the high school students this past week, and they overwhelmingly chose to have a ceremony with their whole class present.”
Celebrations began on June 1, when members of the Livingston police and fire departments, township council, LBOE and more surprised seniors at their homes with their caps and gowns and other surprises.
As of Monday’s LBOE meeting, Block explained that other upcoming graduation plans consist of the following events:
- June 22-24 — All seniors will convene at LHS to receive their diplomas (which, according to state code, must be distributed no later than June 30) and have their photos taken with immediate family in front of a step-and-repeat backdrop
- June 25 — LTV and Facebook will host a live virtual graduation ceremony, produced by Steven Milano in conjunction with his television production students, followed by a town-wide “Clap Out” at 7:30 p.m.
- July 8 — A special post-graduation event for the Class of 2020 will be live-streamed on LTV so students, parents and extended family members can share in a celebratory moment together.
“A lot has gone into planning a celebratory atmosphere for our graduates,” said Block. “The LHS HSA, the Livingston Education Foundation and other groups need to be recognized for coordinating and purchasing distribution of signs, gifts, banners and other Class of 2020 publicity that have been happening throughout the month of June.”
In the event that the restrictions are not lifted to accommodate 500 people at in-person events in July, Block expressed confidence that the LHS graduation planning committee “has gotten very good at contingency plans” and will be able to adjust accordingly.
He reiterated that the district is prepared to “split the ceremonies into smaller ceremonies if the numbers remain lower.”