WAYNE, NJ – On May 4, Governor Phil Murphy announced that all schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year.  This was unwelcome news to students, parents, teachers and school staff, but for high school seniors, it was devastating. 

The final few months of senior year is a time of recognition and celebration. It’s an exciting, yet sad time for seniors knowing that the end of an era is drawing near.

For the last three years, today’s seniors watched as their predecessors celebrated the end of their time in high school in a myriad of ways.  Not only the big events like prom and graduation, but final seasons of high school sports, the last performance of the high school musical, SDA, academic competitions, the fashion show, project graduation and more. 

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It was their turn, but COVID-19 took that away.

“Now, is supposed to be the best time of the year,” said Wayne Valley Senior Juliana Rigoglioso. “We worked so hard for three-and-a-half years of high school and then grind our senior year with athletics and AP classes, then finally the last three or four months is the time that we get rewarded and honored,” she paused here, and one could imagine a lump in her throat that she had to swallow. “It’s just really sad.”

What likely hurts the most was losing the opportunity to say goodbye.

Do you remember your last day of high school? The last bell ringing, the final time walking out the doors and turning back to look one last time at the school you will never attend again; the goodbyes to teachers and classmates. 

For the class of 2020, that moment happened in late March, but no one knew to take that moment of melancholy reflection when they left school that final day.

“It's upsetting because the day before we all went into quarantine, we never thought that would probably be our last day to see each other before we all go off to college,” said Hills Senior Josie Vanputtinvink.

“It’s disappointing because it’s your last ride in high school,” added Valley Senior Nick Lupo. “It’s some of your best moments in your life and to have it cut short,” he hesitated before saying: “It sucks, to be honest with you.”

Kristina Martello, a Valley Senior admitted she was very upset and stressed out when she heard the news. “I wanted my senior year to go how it was supposed to,” she said in lament. “We’ve been trying our best to stay positive and happy, but it’s kind of difficult because we know we’re not going to have our senior privileges like we were supposed to like prom, the fashion show, graduation and project graduation.”

It’s not just the students who are upset.

President of the Wayne Education Association, Eda Ferrante spoke on behalf of all of Wayne’s teachers: “Our teachers and support staff are absolutely heartbroken that we won’t have the opportunity to personally greet each of our students as they walk through our doors again this school year.  It is disappointing that we will not have the opportunity to celebrate those reaching their hard-earned milestones, and we are especially sad for those graduating from our district."

“We recognize this is far more difficult on the students, especially for our seniors who have been working for so many years looking forward to graduation, prom, and a host of special events that make the senior year so special,” said Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback.

The options for prom and graduation are putting them off until it is deemed safe to gather together again, having online, virtual events, or something completely different. Toback has recently sent out a ThoughtExchange survey to seniors and their parents, looking for ideas on how best to hold these special events given current social distancing mandates. 

Most students do not like the idea of virtual events.

“To me, if we do it virtual, it won't be the same,” said Hills Senior Patrick Orapello. “It will be nice that we have something, but it won't be as special as it usually is.”

On the idea of putting the events off until it is safe to hold them, Martello said: “It might be a little difficult for the kids who are going away to college, but if they were able to gather everyone together, that would be amazing.”

“Hopefully, whatever they do, they take their time with it and not just rush to make it virtual,” said Lupo. “I think they need to do something that a lot of people can get on board with and make it worthwhile for what it really should be.”  

During the May 7 BOE virtual meeting, Senior Class President of Hills, Ilona Margolin and Student Body President of Valley, Kevin Feeney both called in and urged the BOE to consider a live event.

Margolin went first. “Our only hope to see each other again, is our graduation,” she said, then laid out an idea for a live graduation. Only the seniors would gather at their perspective football fields in masks and stay six-feet apart, while family and friends would watch a live-broadcast from home. “All the seniors have this one last wish: they want to be able to throw their caps into the air together." She concluded with: "A virtual graduation would not be as meaningful to us and it would feel that we are not getting a graduation at all."

Feeney seconded everything Margolin mentioned. “At Valley we are on the same page as Hills,” he said. “We really do hope for an in-person graduation. Minimizing all contact, masks, gloves, six-feet apart; we’ll literally do anything.”

BOE President Cathy Kazan responded: “Seniors, we're very proud of you. We know this is hard, and we will do everything we can to give you a memorable graduation; if not on the final day, at some point. All thoughts are being considered."

These seniors know what they’ve lost. For them the disappointment is tempered by knowing it was for a greater good.

“We’re sacrificing for the safety and health of everyone in the town which is kind of the way I'm justifying everything,” said Hills Senior Olivia Ramadas. “When I get upset about the unfairness of the situation, I try to realize that there are people out there who are sick or who’ve lost family members. So that is a much bigger thing than losing your graduation.”

Looking to the future and staying positive during this difficult time is a testament to the resilience of Wayne’s two senior classes.

“Although it’s sad and it’s really upsetting, you can only be sad and upset for so long,” said Rigoglioso. “As a senior, I’m leaving for college next year, so these are my final days with my family and my final days with my friends. You have to make the most out of it, look for the light at the end of the tunnel and do what you got to do.  That’s my standpoint on it.”

“The way I've been coping with this is I've been looking forward to, and just been getting excited about going to college; about finding a roommate and everything like that,” said Ramadas.

“We're making history,” said Vanputtinvink. “People, in the future, will look back on this and be like well those seniors gave up their senior prom and their graduation, so if this ever happens again, I guess they could give something up, too.”

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For the next few days, TAPintoWAYNE will be featuring individual stories of Wayne High School Seniors who lost out on various opportunities because of the coronavirus pandemic.