SPRINGFIELD, NJ — The Jonathan Dayton High School class of 2020 reunited one last time last Thursday afternoon to celebrate four years of hard work and accomplishments with a virtual, pre-taped ceremony put together by the students and faculty.

The graduating seniors crowded around their computer screens, smartphones and televisions surrounded by family and friends, ready to experience one of the most unusual turn of events to end their final semester whether it was from their living room sofa, the kitchen table or even a makeshift backyard auditorium.

The first speech of the afternoon was from the president of the Springfield Board of Education, Mark Miller. Miller began his remarks congratulating the class of 2020 and reminded them of all the challenges the community has overcome throughout their lives so far and all the curve balls that have tossed their way.

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“Most of you were born in either late 2001 or throughout 2002 as our country reopened [during] the aftermath of 9/11, but we overcame the fear, uncertainty and the mistrust of that time to grow, learn and become better people,” Miller said in his speech. “I believe that we here in Springfield and around the state and country will do that again because I have faith in you, our young graduates and your generation.”

Miller then passed it on to the first student speaker Lillian Friedman. Friedman echoed the remarks made by Miller and that she and her class have been propelled closer to adulthood given the unexpected turns in their lives including living through hurricanes Irene and Sandy, giving them a real taste of climate change, growing up as new generation exposed to the dangers of school shootings, to now living in a state of uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and wondering when they will be able to return to school and start the next chapters in their lives.

“It’s really crazy to think that this is the longest we have not been in school since we started elementary school,” Friedman emphasized in her speech. “Even taking summer vacation into account, we have never away from our classmates and teachers this long.”

While COVID-19 cut their physical time together short, Friedman reminded her fellow bulldogs all the memories they will cherish forever both in and out of the classroom.

“I think that we can collectively agree that this separation from the community that we find home has been one of the most difficult experiences of high school,” Friedman admitted in her speech. “While the hardest times have been those when we’re apart, we get the strength to get through them from the happiness we’re together. You can look at almost anyone’s Instagram page and see that the happiest pictures are those in which the person is surrounded by fellow Dayton students.” 

Other student speakers included Becca Smith and Samantha DeJohn, who presented her speech at a homemade podium in her backyard consisting of old family relics and a “Rock Band” microphone as her family begins to pack up the home she grew up in and move to North Carolina.

This was one of DeJohn’s last moments not only as a member of the Jonathan Dayton student body, but as a member of the Springfield community, and she was honored to be the one to lead graduating class in the tradition of moving the tassel from right to left, and she wanted to do it in a way that made it feel special.

“We wanted to [do the video] outside because I felt a lot of things since [COVID-19] started have been outside and that [has] been a saving grace for me,” DeJohn said. “[For] the podium, I wanted to make it as graduation-like as possible, but also we have been cleaning out our house and moving soon so seeing these things like the jewelry box which was something in our garage, we decided to put some things together, and we wanted to make this something special and to make people laugh.”

While watching the ceremony with her friends and family, DeJohn taken back by one of the surprises the school planned; a collage of videos made by faculty members to send their seniors off to their next adventures.

“The teacher video was really sweet and such a nice surprise,” the senior class president said. “These teachers are people who we as have looked up to for such a long time and it was nice to see that after all [of] their hard work and all of our hard work, they were able to have one last goodbye because I think a lot of us were upset because we couldn’t say goodbye to our teachers.”

Jonathan Dayton principal, Dr. Norman Francis also showed his appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the teachers, students, parents and guardians during this difficult time. He ensured the class of 2020 that their accomplishments did not go unnoticed. 

“This is not the way we envisioned [the end of the school year],” Francis said in his speech. “However, your arrival to this point and successful completion of high school does fulfil the vision that your families, guardians, teachers, coaches and mentors have had for you since you began your formal education journey.”

Francis also wished farewell to Springfield Schools’ superintendent, Michael Davino, whose contract will be expiring after 15 years with the district at the end of this school term next month.

While Davino did not make a formal speech during his final commencement, he made it available online for the community on the Springfield Schools’ website.

One of the things he highlighted both during the ceremony and in his written letter was that the Jonathan Dayton class of 2020 accumulated over $7,000,000 in scholarships, and he hopes that the students will continue to do their part for the community.

“I am sure I have missed something that you and your family considered unique to you, and I apologize for that,” Davino said in his letter. “However, it is a defining moment for all of us. It is especially significant for you, the class of 2020. You are about to become the next wave of leadership in our communities, our country and in the world.”

A call for action was also something that Francis emphasized during his speech and to remind the graduates that they are going out into the world during a pivotal time in society and that the world has come to a point of inflection, or a turning point. He told the class of 2020 to continue to discuss and debate the topics that they are passionate about as they have done during their time in high school as well as continue partake in activities and services and to vote to help make a difference in the community

“Inflection points are moments in time,” Francis said in his speech. “The change that really occurs happens when people are moved to action, and they act consistently in between. I challenge the members of [the Jonathan Dayton] class of 2020 to act, not just today or tomorrow, but throughout the rest of your journey. We are counting on you."