UNION, NJ – The 138th Commencement Ceremony for Union High School took place, virtually, Wednesday evening.  Shown on TV34 beginning at 6:30, prerecorded speeches were presented and the names of the 561 graduating seniors read.  Class of 2020 members picked up their caps, gowns and diplomas earlier in the day.

“These are very uncertain times,” said Union High School Salutatorian Jane Oyem.  “We’re not sure how our upcoming plans for the fall will be affected by corona.  Regardless, I don’t want this day to be focused on coronavirus or worry.  We should focus on his day as a day of celebration.”

“We’re a strong-willed class,” Oyem said.  “We’re determined to make positive changes if we need to.  We protested for school safety during the walkout, and we protested against police brutality through walkouts or social media.  We’re definitely the best class at Union High School.  And a lot of you made this graduation happen.”

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“I learned that we need to at least put something out there in order to improve upon ourselves, don’t just sit back and do nothing,” continued Oyem.  “Work towards where you want to be, and of course take time to relax.  No need to rush and panic over not being where you want to be, just work at a pace that is comfortable for you, even if it’s little by little.  Something is better than nothing.”

Speaking of his parents’ struggle coming to America at a young age, Valedictorian Arthanious Shafik said, “it was this uncertainty they went through together that helped them forge resiliency and led them to new and better opportunities.”

“Now we must do the same,” said Shafik.  “As the world around us changes, we are forced to adapt and to try to make our lives as “normal” as possible in the midst of a pandemic.  We have had to become best friends with our Chromebooks.  We have had to become innovative in all aspects of our lives.  But we are a class that won’t be forgotten soon.  Who else can claim to have graduated during more uncertain times?”

“I am proud to be a part of the class of 2020, a graduating class that will be known for its ability to adapt to the unknown and find new sources of strength within our families, communities and ourselves.  I would like thank my father for his sacrifices and for teaching me how to find strength in adversity.  Congratulations to the most resilient community, the Union High School Class of 2020.”

In his speech to students, Union High School Interim Principal Mark Hoyt gave them one last task before setting off on their journeys to colleges and universities, the workforce, the military or whatever their lives take them.  “The task is simple,” he said  “Talk to each other.”

“There are too many people in this world that are either closed-minded or do not listen to others’ opinions on certain subjects or any subject at all.  In order to make our society a safer and better place to live in, we must learn to discuss the hard topics and continue those discussions until things get easier.”

“It is your generation that will change the world,” said Hoyt.  “You get to decide what it looks like but only if you are able to have civil discussions with those that disagree with you and reach common ground.  Continue using your voice and your mind to make your world what you want it to be.”

Board of Education President Nancy Minneci said, “I want to thank you.  Thank you for your patience, your flexibility and your understanding of the unprecedented circumstances we’ve gone through over the past few months.  2020 is no ordinary year.  But I believe the Class of 2020 is not ordinary class.  You, along with your peers across the country, are providing moral clarity on the issue of social justice, your commitments to excellence, fairness and justice are one that make us all proud and hopeful in your future contributions to the world.”

“Every year at this time, we celebrate the accomplishments of our senior class through our graduation exercises,” said Superintendent Gregory Tatum.  “As we all know, this year presented us with a different set of challenges, quite frankly like none other.  From a year that began in a traditional fashion, to a year that ended with remote learning, no other graduating class that I know ever had to transition so quickly into a whole new way of learning.  Despite those challenges, you made it.”

“I hereby certify this class, now and forever graduates of Union High School, are entitled to receive their diplomas,” said Tatum.