SPRINGFIELD, NJ — With yesterday's announcement that in-person graduation ceremonies will be allowed starting in July, the path is now clear for Jonathan Dayton High School to potentially hold a ceremony, even if it will look wildly different from any other held in recent memory.
While nothing has been confirmed yet, and meetings are still ongoing, TAPinto Springfield spoke with Jonathan Dayton Student Council Executive Board President Spencer Gary and Senior Class President Samantha DeJohn, to get a sense of how the student body hopes to move forward with this decision.
For Gary, having the door open for a ceremony is key. As he noted, a number of senior "lasts" for himself and other students were washed away by the pandemic, so having the chance to salvage a graduation ceremony is something he is absolutely looking forward to.
“I’m excited for this opportunity. Obviously, this is not the ideal circumstances. I know a lot of my friends and a lot of my peers have not had the opportunity to have their lasts as a senior. For example, some people aren’t allowed to have their last hit from baseball or softball. People aren’t allowed to perform in their last play because of the circumstances.
"Safety should obviously take priority, but I’m looking forward to this opportunity. I believe Governor Murphy and the state are going to announce guidelines on how to properly and safely have a graduation, so I think it’s important to take that one step at a time.”
As DeJohn noted, she had heard that Murphy and other state officials were planning the announcement yesterday morning, before the official announcement so it was less of a surprise to her. Once she knew the option would be presented, she got to work brainstorming.
“It was kind of the first thing I did this morning, was to start thinking of ideas of how we could possibly make this work and where we can possibly make this work," DeJohn said. "Graduation’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a while, and I know that most of the kids in the grade feel the same way [...] now we finally get this uplifting news, and it was so exciting for me to say that I can make a difference here, and I can help make graduation maybe similar to what it would have been before all this mess happened.”
Gary also mentioned that he and other student leaders had been meeting virtually with school and district administration, including Dayton Principal Dr. Norman Francis, Vice Principal Ronald Slate and Superintendent Michael Davino in the run-up to this announcement, game-planning scenarios for both an in-person and virtual outcome.
Now that in-person graduation is seemingly cleared to go, Gary added that student leaders would continue to meet with administrators, with the end goal of a physical ceremony in mind.
“Hopefully we can set a meeting with Dr. Francis, Mr. Slate and the administration in the near future," Gary said. "Especially when the state and the CDC announce their guidelines on how to properly hold the graduation with our capacity and our size and how to make sure everyone’s safe, so we can discuss possibilities for it.”
As far as any conditions that may have to be met for an in-person ceremony to go forward, whether it be without spectators or in smaller groups of students over multiple ceremonies, both student leaders stressed that they were willing to make good-faith concessions to allow an in person-graduation to take place.
“We’re trying to be very mature about this, because we know this is a health issue, and we want to be smart," DeJohn said. "We don’t want to be risky, we want to make sure we go about things in the safest way possible, because we want graduation so much, but we also want to make sure that everybody stays safe.
"So if we have to make accommodations, like do graduation in smaller groups at a time, we’re more than willing to do that, because it’s better than nothing, because we still get to say goodbye in person. We still get to walk outside in our caps and gowns, and I think that’s extremely important."
Overall, both Gary and DeJohn made it clear they were ready to move forward and work on the next steps. For DeJohn in particular, seeing the advocacy work that she and other students put in to lobby for in-person graduation was amazing.
“It’s really incredible to see hard work paying off. I know it was very stressful, definitely on my part, because I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders," DeJohn said. "And I know it wasn’t just me, it was a lot of other people on the board that were feeling that way also, and just hoping that we can make this work for us and our friends and our parents and our teachers who all want to see us go through this, because it’s such an important time in our lives.”
Overall, the seniors both said they were happy to have the option to graduate in-person, and would work their hardest to make it happen.
“I’m just looking forward to working with the administration to make graduation the best it can be," Gary said. "Obviously these are not ideal circumstances, but we’re all just looking forward to seeing what everyone has to do.”