NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The prom, the senior class trip and spring sports seasons were all canceled – and with them a million memories the Class of 2020 will never get back.

That made Wednesday’s in-person graduation ceremony at New Brunswick High School – even one with more masks and distancing than pomp and circumstance – all the more meaningful.

The ceremonies held in the front of the school and in the courtyard had all the rites and rituals of a typical graduation, right down to the caps, gowns and the shifting of the tassels from right to left.

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The seniors smiled, waved to their parents, clapped, laughed and, by all outward appearances, forgot at least for an hour or so on Wednesday that their worlds had been thrown into uncertainty when the school district closed its doors in March and instituted remote instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No other graduation was like this,” Denali Floyd said. “I’m very excited. This is the moment I’ve worked four years for. I needed for this to happen. I’m extremely proud of myself, I’m extremely proud of everybody here. We earned this, so of course, we had to have it.”

The ceremony was broken up into different shifts at two sites.

The seniors sat at least six feet apart in rows while their loved ones watched on from the sides.

When the moment they’ve been working toward for four years came, the seniors walked across a stage adorned with dozens of balloons.

One of the themes connecting Superintendent of Schools Aubrey Johnson’s speech with Principal Ken Redler’s was that the members of the Class of 2020 now know that sometimes in life – or in a pandemic – you need to muster determination against unexpected challenges.

“By earning your diploma in the midst of a global pandemic demonstrates your resilience and your willingness to persevere,” Johnson said. “You refused to surrender and for that, I applaud you.”

Said Redler: “This might not be the pomp and circumstance you dreamt of. However, this moment is a ceremony to celebrate you, to acknowledge your achievements, the struggles you’ve had to endure to achieve your goals small and large.”

After the diplomas were handed out and the ceremony was over, several seniors filed into the parking lot to take photos with their families.

“It wasn’t what I personally expected, but it exceeded my expectations,” said Anguel Garcia, a sprinter on the track and field team. “I learned that I can adapt to changed. I’m not just limited to the classroom. I can do it outside, too. Like they say, the sky’s the limit.”