NEWARK, NJ — No prom. No class trips. No graduation ceremonies and now, most likely no first freshman semester of college, at least not like old times. To say that graduating high school seniors have been robbed by the coronavirus would hardly do them justice. 

Recognizing that hard reality, the Rev. Dr. Ronald Slaughter knew that this year, he and Saint James AME church on Martin Luther King Boulevard needed to do something special to lift up the spirits of the seniors in his congregation who weathered their final year of schooling during a global pandemic. 

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented generosity, and so is the case here. No other high school student in our lifetime has ever had to deal with losing the entire second half of their senior year,” Slaughter said. “We wanted to do something different to congratulate them.”

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It’s tradition for Saint James AME to hold its annual graduate Sunday, when they ask graduating congregants from Pre-K to graduate school to fill out paperwork, so they can then be honored by their church. This year, there were 33 graduates, nine of which were college-bound high school seniors who each received a $1,000 scholarship last Thursday. 

“We want them to know that in this culture and climate, we love them, we appreciate them and we believe in them,” Slaughter said. 

During COVID-10, Slaughter led Saint James AME on a “Sharing the Love” tour, which began with feeding the entire staff at Saint Michael’s Medical Center. From there, they fed the city’s entire sanitation department, the New Jersey Food Bank, and their own social services staff, who have delivered more than 20,000 meals. 

The awarding of scholarships is just the latest stop on “Sharing the Love,” according to Slaughter. 

Scholarship recipient Jordan White of Piscataway said e-learning presented new challenges, like not being able to ask her teachers questions or receive hands-on instruction. But it forced her to be more independent and helped prepare her for college. 

“It was just harder to learn at home and not be in the classroom. I missed the social aspect,” she said.

She plans to use the scholarship money to purchase a laptop for her next adventure at Middlesex Community College, where she plans to study forensic science. 

Jahi Nixon, who will attend Howard University in the fall, is looking forward to fusing his passion for fashion design with business management. His scholarship dollars will go toward creating inventory, designs and templates, he said. 

“(Virtual learning) has actually been easier for me because I have more time to get my work done, and I can focus without being distracted by my peers,” he added. “I got higher grades and finished with almost all As.”