WEST ESSEX, NJ — They say good things come to those who wait. For the West Essex High School Class of 2020, the old adage proved true, as they finally graduated in person yesterday morning on the turf field.
Over the course of the ceremony, graduates heard from members of the student body and school administration, who spoke to their persistence and perseverance in the face of a daunting challenge like the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, the students had voted in the majority to hold a socially distant ceremony as one class, even if it meant graduating without friends and family there to cheer them on.
That spirit of resiliency and growth was a common theme in every speech. Gabriella Benevenga, the Senior Class President spoke about the topic at length in her address.
"Class of 2020, we often have a strength that goes unnoticed," Benevenga said. "We were all born around 9/11 and nearly 19 years later, here we are, starting another chapter of our lives with yet another event that will go down in the history books, graduating during a pandemic.
"Our lives have been molded by difficult and challenging situations that have impacted the world around us. Despite these setbacks, we have remained resilient."
On a similar note, Salutatorian Kiana Bronder spoke about her extensive love of cheese, and how the curdling, aging and maturation phases of the dairy product relates to how the class of 2020 has come of age as well.
"We have all had radically different experiences during our time in high school," Bronder said. "A family may have fallen apart or been created, a loved one lost or born, in addition to the general stress of school. The pressure may have been consistently high or constantly fluctuating, but we still had to fill our mold.
"Despite what life has thrown at us, we assumed our roles and responsibilities and rose to meet the expectations placed on us. We have endured and survived, growing more resilient and self-assured with each passing challenge."
And for Valedictorian Ahren Alberto his takeaway from the past several months was that his fellow graduates have the right to feel bitter about what was taken from them when schools closed in March. But he said that should not stop them from taking on this challenge as they have others.
"We must overcome this adversity with strength, pride and determination, as we have so many other times," Alberto said. "Since we were born, our class has been the quintessential example of perseverance."
He referenced his classmates being born around 9/11, and growing up in a world that has seen countless challenges, most recently the dual wallop of the pandemic and protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police in May. But Alberto stressed that what they have all seen will help them as they become the next generation of leaders.
"We are responding and influencing the world in our own way," he added. "The resilience we have built up through our childhood as w witnessed history is allowing us to change history. Throughout our lifetime we have lived through the unimaginable, and yet we persist, aiming to make the world a better place."
For West Essex High School Principal Caesar Diliberto, the graduation was the perfect capstone to the unique and often challenging journey that the class of 2020 has found themselves on. He spoke briefly after the ceremony about what he had seen from this year's graduating class.
"It means a tremendous amount," Diliberto said. "Like I said in the beginning of my speech, they made a choice to be here today. It's a tough place where the parents aren't invited, but they made a choice to be here, and graduate as one class after all of it.
"They could be anywhere right now, but they chose to be here, with their class and graduate. And through the years, they have shown themselves to be resilient [...] To show up today like this is just the period, the punctuation at the end of their illustrious high school career."
Following the ceremony, the class of 2020 departed the campus in an orderly fashion.