Sullivan West’s Class of 2020: a shining light in the Year of COVID-19

By TED WADDELL
Posted 7/22/20

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — And what a year it’s been as one door closes and others open to the future.

On Saturday, July 18, Sullivan West High School held their commencement ceremonies for …

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Sullivan West’s Class of 2020: a shining light in the Year of COVID-19

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LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — And what a year it’s been as one door closes and others open to the future.

On Saturday, July 18, Sullivan West High School held their commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020 in a two-part rite of passage for the graduating seniors; due to the coronavirus, it was delayed from the original date at the end of June.

While the ceremony traditionally takes place in the auditorium, this year it was assembled on the high school’s football/soccer field.

The grads sat socially distanced on the aluminum bleachers, while their parents and other family members sat facing them on chairs set up on the freshly mown grass fields of athletic competition.

Once again, social distancing and face coverings were the order of the day during both the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. ceremonies, which were divided into two separate groupings in order to adhere to the state board of education’s requirements for outdoor graduations.

In years past, the seniors convened in the high school library to don their caps and gowns to anticipate entering the packed gym to the traditional sounds of Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” followed by a round of speeches and culminating with the long-awaited awarding of hard-won diplomas.

But this year was a lot different.

The seniors entered the fields of play to Elgar’s processional broadcast over loudspeakers, listened to the graduation speeches and were certified as graduates en masse, while later they posed for photographs with their folks and well-wishers next to placards being their likenesses and names affixed to the fence surrounding the athletic field.

Class of 2020 vice president Nikita Parikh led the small assemblage in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Olivia Hendrickson singing the National Anthem.

The senior high school choir sang Stephen Schwartz’s “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked.”

In the second session of the graduation, the senior high school band performed “Yesterday,” with words and music by John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles.

Superintendent of Schools Stephen Walker and high school principal Mark Plescia then addressed the Class of 2020 with brief remarks, focusing on the seniors’ ability to rise above the rigors of the pandemic.

“To the graduates, you did not get up here alone,” said Plescia, adding,” You had support along the way. Your parents helped you get over these past years, and I know they are proud of you, as you move on to the next stage of your life.”

In summing up the feelings of most Americans, Plescia continued, “At no time did anyone ever imagine a graduation like this. We never imagined quarantine, or the level of social restrictions... I can tell you, these hallways were lonely. We missed seeing you throughout the day, our short conversations, or getting the latest news of your plans after graduation... The school did not have the same feeling with you not here.”

Sullivan West’s high school principal went on to explain what he described as a valuable lesson learned during the pandemic, in that, “Life does not take place in a vacuum, no one exists alone,” citing “one theme that became evident,” missing family, friends and the other interactions that enrich the fabric of life.

“The relationships you make along the way make life special. Take care of not only yourself, but each other,” said Plescia.

Bryce Reimer, as class valedictorian, took to the podium wearing the light blue stole denoting his graduating summa sum laude.

Reflecting on the year of COVID-19 and its impact on society, he said, “Plagues and epidemics have ravaged humanity throughout its existence, often changing the course of history.

“However, knowing there are so many people in this world who had to face greater hardships, we should all choose to be thankful for the memories we made during our high school careers, and the fact that we are here today to celebrate this milestone together.”

Reimer looked back on his baseball career at the “Home of the Bulldogs” and quoted Babe Ruth, whom he called the greatest baseball player of all time, as saying, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

“Watching all of us grow up these past years, I have never seen anyone of us be afraid to fail,” he said. “We are a resilient and innovative class, and I believe we have emerged a stronger group of young adults from this pandemic experience.”

At Sullivan West, Reimer played basketball in grades nine and 10 and was a four-year player in the game of swats.

His future plans include studying mechanical engineering at Bucknell University and playing D-1 baseball.

Class of 2020 salutatorian John Muzuruk began his speech by thanking the school’s administration “for figuring out an alternative to our traditional graduation.”

“I vividly remember, just a few short years ago, freshman year, when our teachers told us that our time in high school would fly by,” he said, continuing, “Back then, none of us took that seriously as we thought we had so much time left, but here we are now, like the snap of a finger, graduating from our small-town high school...

“My experience was filled with a sense of community and close friendships. From an academic perspective, this class had a supportive yet competitive comradery, often resulting in academic achievements. Even though the door for high school has literally shut, I would like to remind everyone that another has opened, and we can do with it what we want.”

As a scholar-athlete at Sullivan West, Muzuruk played the game of hoops in grades nine and 10 and soccer for four years.

In the future, he plans to study mechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology.

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