SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta High School class of 2020 gathered on Cassels field to have the ceremony they thought was not going to happen.  The COVID-19 rules about gatherings required two ceremonies to allow all 216 students have their name announced, as they walked across the stage.

“We are a unique part of history,” Executive Student Council President Greg Puszcz said.  “We got not one but two graduations.

Athletic Director Steve Stoner, Master of Ceremonies for the events, said most of the students chose to attend, with approximately 30 students forgoing the “in-person” graduation.  The students had a virtual ceremony on June 19, the original day reserved for them.

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“The pandemic has allowed us to know what matters,” Puszcz said “This virus will not destroy this class’s spirit.”

Salutatorian David Rubin modified the speech he gave for the virtual ceremony.  He pointed out his classmates “defied all odds in so many ways.”  They overcame canceled classes, canceled sports and a virtual graduation, pushing through until they got to graduate in person.

“I don’t want you to believe it’s the only year that you can defy the odds,” Rubin said. “…I want all of us to continue to believe in yourselves and to defy all odds.”

Students were on the field, spaced six feet apart.  Each chair was reserved with the student’s name.  Without any rehearsal, the students showed poise and maturity, crossing the stage as their names were announced. Both ceremonies went off without any difficulty.

Principal Ronnie Spring noted this class is special to him “since you are my first graduating class,” at Sparta High School.  He recognized the students for the character in the unprecedented time. “You are kind, empathetic, trustworthy and honest…hardworking, dedicated and enthusiastic.” He said they could be “counted on to do the right things when needed.”

“The manner in which you have handled yourselves, the sacrifices you have made, and the strong sense of community and Spartan spirit you demonstrated during our school closures have pushed the bar higher for what we continue to expect of Sparta High School graduates,” acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney said. 

Board of Education vice president Jen Grana told the graduates “you have just endured the most unpredictable and unheard of graduating year that this town has ever seen, that this country has ever seen, that the world has ever seen. You did so, not only with success, but with grace, dignity and perseverance and the reward for that is the building up of character in each of you that will carry you through whatever challenges may be put in your path going forward.”

Congratulating his classmates, Valedictorian Alan Yeung said, “You’ve achieved your first major milestone: not just graduation from high school but also from childhood.”

“It’s time for our generation to take the driver’s seat.  I sincerely hope that everyone sitting next to you…will be leaders of our society in their respective fields,” not in the future but “from this moment.”

The abbreviated ceremonies were completed in under an hour, brevity required because of the heat.  “In the words of Hamilton, ‘History has its eyes on you,’” Grana said.

Editor's notes: This is the first of two articles, this one for the morning ceremony and a second for the afternoon event.  Parents who would like a copy of a photo can email jdericks@tapinto.net.  Please include details about the photo you are requesting.

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