With the pandemic making a traditional high school graduation unwise and illegal, Delaware Valley Regional High School has attempted to concoct commencement exercises that will be memorable and meaningful, while obeying directives from Trenton.
Efforts include delivery of caps and gowns to each senior, a parade through Alexandria Township, a drive-thru ceremony at the high school, and a video featuring each senior and speeches appropriate to the occasion.
The deliveries were made over four days — Monday, June 1, through Thursday, June 4. A school bus, with transportation director Jerry Ford at the wheel, pulled up in front of a house, horn honking. Huge banners adorned both sides of the bus: “Class of 2020, We are proud of you!” Piling out of it were Board President Ellen Gordon-Obal, Superintendent Daria Wasserbach and Principal Adrienne Olcott, all masked.
That scene played out about 190 times, ranging from a few nobody-homes to seniors Kevin Burns and Vaughn Murphy, who followed the bus on foot to its next stop at Aidan Cohen‘s house. In Frenchtown, at Sarah Nerwinski‘s house, her mom said, “She just left for work! Would it be possible to go to the IGA?” It was possible, and senior Adam Johnson was found working at the supermarket, too.
The superintendent said, “To our graduates, it was such a privilege visiting you and your families this week. We thank you for welcoming us, for your kind words of support, and your hospitality. Even though your senior year was far from what you anticipated it would be, we hope you recognize how special you are to each of us. If you can get through this year, you can get through anything! May the next chapter in your lives bring you the happiness and satisfaction you so deserve. We are extremely proud of you! “
On Friday, June 12, these gowned seniors, sealed hygienically inside their family cars, will assemble in Alexandria Park, then, accompanied by the school bus, fire engines and police cars, will parade to the high school. There they will pass through a balloon arch amid a shower of soap bubbles to receive their diplomas through their windows.
Later that afternoon they and the public can view a special commencement video, put together by TV/video teacher Billy Gregson. It will feature speeches by Student Council President Charlie Niebuhr, Class President Jillian Pfefferle, Wasserbach and Olcott, and recognition of each graduate. The video will be posted on YouTube and on DVRHS.org, with links sent to seniors and parents through an alert.
A special message to graduates will be posted on the school website from Alex MacNicoll. Class of 2007. He is a working actor with TV and movie credits. He has been selected for the Del Val Hall of Fame for the Arts, with induction postponed to 2021.
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Isabella Milano, a fifth grader from Franklin Elementary in Rahway, made 1,000 cards for the entire staff of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway. She wanted to make sure she had enough for everyone. It took her four weeks to do it. Each card has a packet of Lifesavers affixed to it. In fact, mom said she was cut off by Amazon for the candy. The cards thank the employees for being a life saver. Bella is 11-years-old and wants to be a crime scene investigator or a doctor when she grows up.
Mother Seton Regional High School
For the high school graduates of the Class of 2020, though, graduation rites of passage were threatened to be non-existent as they prepared to finish their high school careers under the cloud of the COVID pandemic.
The school began by delivering to each senior’s door step their yearbooks along with special gifts that were packaged by the senior class moderators. Danielle Roach, one of the school’s English teachers, along with Jessica Illingworth, Natalie Rotolo, and Carolyn DeMaio, loaded up their cars and headed out from school to begin the socially-distant visits to their students. Parents and students alike cheered, cried, and delighted in the gifts that were delivered.
Mother Seton’s Senior Award Ceremony began to play while Corinne Wnek, director of Guidance and Administrative Team member, boasted the more than $16.8 million in academic college scholarships MSR’s senior class had garnered. The class valedictorian, Simran Kaur, was named along with co-salutatorians, Brooke Belmonte and Brooke Merced. Awards were announced from each academic department as well as acknowledgements for girls who participated in clubs and volunteer organizations facilitated by the school.
May 28 was Graduation Day. Graduation began with an online event that streamed for everyone to see at 11 a.m. Prayer, the National Anthem, and the school’s alma mater were among just a few of the pieces that were brought to life electronically to commemorate this event. The outgoing Senior Class President, Sadia Decastro, led the girls in a virtual ‘turning of the tassel’ recognizing the girls’ formal promotion from students to high school graduates.
Then, at 2 p.m. was the Drive Through Graduation Ceremony. The graduates and their families pulled up to see each of the graduates’ pictures lining the school campus. Then, with cars spaced safely apart, as the roll call of graduates began with “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background, each car approached Sister Jacquelyn in order for the graduates to receive their diplomas.
North Brunswick Township High School
North Brunswick Township High School will hold a virtual graduation on Wednesday, June 17, airing at 6 p.m. on local TV channel 15, on YouTube, and the district website. This year’s valedictorian is Sidharth Bejugama and salutatorian is Rima Peddi. Guest speaker will be Tim Howard, Class of ’97, a professional soccer player, Team USA.
Old Bridge High School
Old Bridge High School (OBHS) held its first virtual scholarship celebration, honoring 213 seniors from the Class 2020. The teens were awarded scholarships totaling more than $119,000. The school’s annual in-person ceremony was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions imposed by NJ Governor Phil Murphy.
“While many teachers, staff and administrators work hard behind the scenes, with the goal of recognizing our phenomenal students, it is really the entire Old Bridge community and the generous donations to our students’ futures that make Awards Night possible,” said Connie Mason, a history teacher at the high school who oversees the project.
OBHS Principal Vincent Sasso addressed the teens in a pre-recorded video with the school’s three vice principals assisting with the presentations.
Sasso quoted author Charles Dickens from the opening paragraph of a “Tale of Two Cities”. He told the class, while this year “it has been the best of times; it has been the worst of times,” he urged the Class of 2020 to “always remember to be kind and treat others with compassion and empathy.”
During the 40-minute video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjA8sq5ZWxA:
Senior John Szuminsky was recognized for receiving the Army ROTC 3-Year Advanced Designee Scholarship. This nationally earned award, which totals $228,000, covers full tuition, fees, room/board and a stipend; Szyuminsky will fulfill his commitment to serve in the US Army upon graduation.
Jordan Totten was the recipient of a $30,000 scholarship spread out over four years from the Brunetti Foundation. This scholarship is awarded to a senior who performed outstanding academically, demonstrated good citizenship, and participated in athletics and community service.
All Around Old Bridge, the township newspaper, presented a scholarship for the first time this year to two students who are editors of Knight Life, the school newspaper. They are Brianna Boone and Nicholas Damico-Ferri.
Other scholarships included the Zachary & Jude Attianese Scholarship, which is awarded to three student athletes in memory of Zachary, an OBHS graduate, and his father. This year’s recipients are: Edward Nugent, Nicholas Calicari, and Paul Pawlowsky,
The Daniel E. Reilly Memorial Scholarship, from the Knights of Columbus of Laurence Harbor, was awarded to Emmanuel Joseph.
The following students received the OBHS Honor Society Scholarship. They are: Sydney Addesso, Juliana DeLissio, Prabhsimran Kaur, Allison Keefe, Amelya Notoma, Alex Park, Dominick Rosiak, Gabriella Shulenski, Jordan Totten, Savannah Warner and Audrey Wilson.
The Cheer for the Future Jessica Uveges LoNigro Scholarship was awarded to Nicoletta Gambino. The award recognizes outstanding leadership, dedication, and commitment to the Jessica Uveges LoNigro community blood drives over the past three years.
A new scholarship this year, the OBHS Knight of Hope Award, commemorates the life of Sarah Hope Azziz, a member of the Class of 2020 who died last summer. This year’s recipients include Vincenzo Bianco, Gianna Chionchio, Hannah Corcoran, Vincent Eppi, Russ Fazio, Chelsea Lee-Sam, Danielle Marciante, Olivia Pospisil and Rachel West.
Brian Li of Basking Ridge, a senior at The Pingry School, is a winner of the National Merit Allergan Foundation Scholarship, sponsored by The Allergan Foundation.
National Merit selections take into account SAT scores and leadership and participation in school and community activities. Student Body President during the 2019-20 school year, Li has further distinguished himself by balancing a course load with extracurricular involvement that has included serving as Editor-in-Chief of “Vital Signs” and “Pingry Community Research;” serving as a research assistant for several summers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and during the year on a Pingry Independent Research Team; serving as a chaperone for Ridge Baseball Club’s “Buddy Ball Division,” a program for special-needs children who want to enjoy playing baseball in an environment structured to their abilities; volunteering at Morris Chinese Academy; and volunteering at Cochrane.
For Cochrane, an organization that facilitates evidence-based healthcare, Li has screened more than 10,000 records by determining whether studies in research databases can be included in Cochrane’s Central Register of Controlled Trials or individual researchers’ collections. Separately, he also applied to become a volunteer Chinese-to-English translator.
“My job with the Chinese translation team is to take Cochrane’s English-language systematic reviews and then translate them for Chinese audiences,” he said. “I’ve published five so far. I’m glad that two more on coronavirus plasma treatments and PPE are currently being edited by the team.”
A new member of Pingry’s chapter of The Cum Laude Society, as well as Valedictorian, Li plans to attend Princeton University.
Also: The Pingry School has welcomed 28 members of the Class of 2020 into The Cum Laude Society. The Cum Laude Society honors academic excellence and superior scholarship among its 382 member schools. Membership in this academic organization is limited to 20 percent of the senior class.
New members: Dilan Bhat of Gillette; Noopur Bhatt of Whippany; Samantha Burak of Berkeley Heights
Aimee Composto of Mendham; Hannah Dillon of Basking Ridge; Victoria Gu of Short Hills; Hannah Guglin of Basking Ridge; Benjamin Hargrove of Morris Township; Anjali Kapoor of Basking Ridge; Caroline Knorn of Maplewood; Ashna Kumar of Bridgewater; Alison Lee of Summit; Kaya Lee of Far Hills; Brian Li of Basking Ridge; Sofia Lombardo of Warren; Ashley Lu of Summit; Ashana Makhija of Bridgewater; Tyler McLaughlin of Summit; James “Burke” Pagano of Short Hills; Jennifer Ryan of Basking Ridge; Alyssa Schwertfeger of Bridgewater; Sonia Talarek of Far Hills; Lauren Taylor of Morristown; James Wang of Short Hills;Jamie Wang of Warren; Collin Wen of Short Hills; Samuel Williams of Summit; and Qida “Steven” Wu of Basking Ridge.
Pingry students must meet each of the following criteria to be considered for election: maintain at least an A- grade point average, achieve honor roll status throughout their years in the Upper School, be in good academic standing, and carry a full college preparatory course load.
Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools
Nicholas Piano of Branchburg, a senior in the Automotive-Diesel Technology program, has been selected as Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School’s (SCVTHS) Student of the Month for June 2020.
Piano was nominated by three SCVTHS instructors for the Student of the Month award. Spanish Instructor Guillermo Renia nominated Nicholas stating, “I have known Nicholas for two years now. I have seen how much he has grown as a Spanish student and also in his study and organizational skills. He just completed his Spanish writer project and presented to the class sharing it on Zoom with excellent performance. I am very proud to see him finishing his high school studies. Kudos to Nick.” In-Class Support Instructor Charles Schade added that Piano is “steady, consistent, has outstanding participation and is conscientious.” Science Instructor Shannon Melick said Piano “has shown hard work ethic and dedication throughout the school year and with the abrupt change to virtual learning, he has continued to be an exemplary student.”
At SCVTHS, Piano has achieved Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications A1 through A8 in his automotive program and has assisted with the SCVTHS Proud to be an American Day.
After graduating from SCVTHS, Piano plans to attend Raritan Valley Community College to pursue a business degree. One day, hopes to open his own custom automotive shop.
Also: The following four Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School students have received National Merit Scholarship Finalist recognition:
- Abiram Gangavaram of Watchung has been selected as a winner of the $2,500 National Merit Mary E. Beyerle Scholarship.
- Elizabeth Gershater of Bridgewater has been selected as a winner of the National Merit $2,500 Scholarship.
- Adarsh Mavathaveedu of Flemington has been offered the National Merit Boston University Scholarship.
- Ruhyak Gupta of Flemington has achieved finalist standing in the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School announced Mira Amin of Bridgewater, Nidhi Banker of Branchburg, William Littwin of Bridgewater, Krishna Mody of Martinsville, Seejal Padhi of Bridgewater, Ritu Peddinti of Bridgewater, Mayaank Pillai of Hillsborough and Sanya Ravoori of Hillsborough have been named Commended Students in the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program. A Letter of Commendation from the school and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), which conducts the program, will be presented by the principal to these scholastically talented seniors.
St. Thomas Aquinas High School
Academics weren’t the only aspect of students’ experience to go virtual at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, in a year cut short by the coronavirus. A series of year-end virtual events were aimed at keeping students involved and ensuring that seniors were given the recognition that they had earned.
Starting with virtual spirit days, students submitted photos of themselves on theme days such as “take your pet to virtual school day,” “dress like a teacher day,” and “meme day,” giving them the opportunity to see each other and be creative as they continued to learn from home. As the quarantine drew on, extracurricular events such as Art Club, Gaming Club, Student Council elections, and yoga classes took place online, embedding a sense of normalcy and connection for students outside their virtual classes.
And when the decision to close schools for the remainder of the year was handed down, it meant that seniors would miss their last opportunities to take the fields and the stage as athletes, actors, and musicians. St. Thomas Aquinas High School Social Media, along with the Athletics and Fine Arts department, knew that the recognition that students earned at the traditional year-end senior nights, performances, and banquets could not be foregone. Together with coaches and other faculty members, STA social media produced virtual senior nights for the more than 50 senior students who were involved in lacrosse, softball, baseball, track, tennis, golf, drama, and music. They were all acknowledged with speeches recorded by their coaches or directors and combined with videos and photos of their starring roles in sports, drama, or music. The biggest event for the school’s musicians was the product of efforts by the students and their director, Joseph Cullinan, Class of ’02. Together they performed a full-length virtual concert, featuring music by two bands and two choirs as well as a variety of soloists.
The biggest event of the season was graduation. A full virtual graduation ceremony, complete with speeches, the presentation of the graduates, tassel turn, and a musical interlude accompanied a live-streamed drive-thru graduation ceremony in which students were able to “walk” and receive their diplomas
The live and virtual events can all be found at youtube.com/stahsedison.
Upper School science students at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School in Edison addressed the fields of genetics and molecular biology in a series of informative virtual presentations in a webinar on Wednesday, May 20.
W+H offers honors research programs in genetics and molecular biology and technology. In genetics, students work on an independent genetic research project using drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) in collaboration with an active researcher at a university, research institute or biotech company. In molecular biology and technology, students participate in a nationally funded research program through the Waksman Institute of Rutgers University and use molecular biological techniques and bioinformatics to identify and characterize previously unknown genes in the duckweed plant, which is important for biofuel and pollution control.
Six students recently shared their research and findings: Anna Razvi of Somerset — The Role of the ABC-Transporter Protein in Duckweed; Brianna Chambers of Somerset — The Role of Calcium Homeostasis in Drosophila Heart Regulation; Neil Shah of Edison — The Function of the Tet Protein in Pain Response; Shankari Theivanayagam of Summit — Production of a new Drosophila Strain to Visualize Protein-Protein Interactions in a Living Organism; Neha Mandalapu of Warren — A Paternal Effect for the Hedgehog Signaling Pathway in Drosophila; and Silvia Xia of China — The Role of Calcium–Binding Proteins in Stressful Situations.
Also: Eighth grade students at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School in Edison addressed a variety of topics during a series of virtual Capstone presentations last week. Nine students participated in this year’s program:
Gbemi Olarewaju of Piscataway – Water Shortages in sub-Saharan Africa; Tiger Huang of Edison – Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Human Economies; Anushka Dalal of Scotch Plains – Impact of Foster Care on Children; Isabella Rovito of Scotch Plains — Impact of Media on Body Image and Self-Esteem; Diya Patel of Iselin — Health and Environmental Impacts of Dairy Consumption; Sanya Sidhu of Edison — Human Trafficking; Luke Tan of Edison — Impact of Bird Loss on Ecosystems in Southeast Asia; Hannah Malko of Clark — Evangelicalism and Reproductive Rights; Ethan Guo of Warren — Health and Environmental Impacts of Air Pollution.
Also: The first-ever virtual Field Day turned into an enormous success, with Lower School students and parents participating in a community oriented challenge event that incorporated many aspects.
Students in from PreK-Grade 5 were divided into teams of Green and Gold during the daylong event, which triggered thousands of posts on SeeSaw. Students and their families spent the day completing innovative challenges created by teachers, including Davis’ Scavenger Hunt, Maciorowski’s Minute Challenge, Sari’s Music Challenge, Maria Hinestroza’s Spanish Challenge and PE Challenges from Romeo, Nicholls and Howell.. Participants also had the option to increase their point totals with the Rammy Challenge.
Also: The Wardlaw+Hartridge School in Edison held its annual World Language Honor Societies induction ceremony on Thursday, May 28. This year’s event was a virtual presentation.
Esther Faus, World Language Department chair, delivered the welcome, which was followed by the Introduction to the Honor Societies, Candle Ceremony and Honor Society Oaths. Twenty-three Upper School students were inducted into three honor societies — Chinese, Latin and Spanish.
Congratulations to this year’s honorees: Chinese — Leila Hernández-Webster of Edison, Jason Kisare of Bridgewater, Brian Machado of Scotch Plains, Camila Martinez of Scotch Plains, Sara Reiss of Fords, Neil Shah of Edison, and Taliyah Williams of Rahway.
Latin — Alex Caiola of Westfield, Aarush Dharayan and Shreya Dharayan of Edison, Rose Kassam of Scotch Plains, Anant Kovil of Edison, Arun Lakshman of Westfield, Austin Miller of Linden, and Rihan Sajid of Carteret.
Spanish — Scott Greaney of Scotch Plains, Alexandra Guillen of Rahway, Qigeng Huang of Plainfield, Saleem Ibraheem of Piscataway, Zane Lee-Briggs of Avenel, Kallie Schildge of Westfield, Isabella Sena-Cash of Scotch Plains, and Gurleen Sindhar of Carteret.
Warren Township Schools
On Thursday, May 21, all Warren Township Schools’ (WTS) students participated in a Virtual Field Day created by the WTS Physical Education (PE) Department. Although the children weren’t able to play games with their friends and teachers, for the first time, many were able to enjoy Field Day with their siblings and other family members, a special experience made possible by being at home.
For weeks leading up to the special event, the PE department met through Google Meet and created and released teaser videos of themselves and other district employees preparing for the big day, to boost morale. Their marketing worked, the district received hundreds of pictures and videos of students along with their siblings and parents, smiling, running, jumping, playing, and overall just having a grand old time.
First-year Warren Middle School PE teacher Timothy Fabiano built a website that gave the rules and guidelines and activity forms for the day. Additionally, Andrew Ahimovic, Aubrey Pellerin, Danielle Buzby, Douglas Clark, Jeffrey Sutherland, John Tshilas, Kurt Reck, Laura Lamson, Nicholas Bayachek, Sean Mealey and Fabiano created activity preview videos that were added to the website. Students were invited to watch the activity preview videos so the families could gather supplies from around their homes to prepare.
Students were asked to select at least eight to 10 games out of a list of 20 to participate in. The games that were offered included; Egg and Spoon relay, Throwing for Accuracy, Bowl Ball, Sock Throw for Distance, Sack Race, Paper Plane Corn Hole, Water Sponge Relay, Water Bottle Trap, Frisbee Throw, Mini Golf, Obstacle Course, Towel Flip, Paper Plane Throwing for Distance, Broom Balance, Dizzy Bat, Scavenger Hunt, Sock-er Skee Ball, Speed Fold, Water Bottle Flip, and Target Practice.
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Carolyn Sampson is Executive Office Assistant for the Courier News, The Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com, and handles the weekly Student News page. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.