Bloomfield High School graduates Class of 2020

Camille Aquino gives the valedictory address at Bloomfield High School’s virtual graduation ceremony.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield High School’s graduation ceremony is still going to be held at Foley Field this year, but it’ll look a little different from years past. Only students are allowed to attend the event, which is scheduled for July 15. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and gatherings, graduations were included. So school districts adapted to the internet, and BHS’ virtual ceremony was livestreamed on Facebook on June 23.

“On March 12, your senior year came to a screeching halt,” BHS Principal Chris Jennings said during the ceremony. “No one would have thought that when you walked out of the building that day, it would have been the last time you did so as a student. Although the first few weeks of virtual learning may have seemed exciting, it quickly dawned on us what we were losing. But through it all, the Class of 2020 remained focused on brighter days.”

Before the names of the BHS graduates were read, the three student speakers addressed their peers.

“The class of 2020 is undoubtedly one of the most successful classes in Bloomfield history,” senior class President Peter Kuo said. “Our various school organizations have outdone themselves. Robotics team, academic decathlon, Glamour Girls, swim team and many more have thrived in the past four years. Together we raised more than $90,000 to reduce our price for prom and other senior expenses. Our top 50 students have been more competitive than other classes academically.”

He also highlighted the challenges that the seniors have been faced with in the last four years.

“The coronavirus is one of the many challenges we are going through and has taken away many things from us that are irreplaceable,” Kuo said. “Our precious time, and supposedly greatest time, of our high school career was cut short. The fact that we made it here, decorated with countless awards and accomplishments, is just a testament to how strong the Class of 2020 is.”

Michael Bsales gave the salutatory address, saying that in most years, the class would have spent a few days at rehearsal before the ceremony.

“Before most graduations, we would have spent a few days practicing sitting down in the right order, walking to Foley Field, handing off a card with our name spelled phonetically and shaking Mr. Jennings’ hand,” he said. “This graduation isn’t most graduations. This year isn’t most years. And this class isn’t most classes.”

Bsales talked about all the things he and his class have missed out on — a regular ceremony, prom and senior fest — and all they experienced.

“We have attended protests against racism, organized walkouts in response to school shootings and campaigned against mental health stigma,” he said. “Our generation has been lauded and condemned for our activism. Even Mr. DiDomenico, who takes time out of his physics curriculum to make sure we all heard a firsthand account of the civil rights movement, told my class that he hasn’t seen that level of engagement since his own youth in the ’60s. Mr. D. knows this class is not like other classes. Our class and our graduation have been reshaped by the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the state of the world. Because of this, we will become the next generation of nurses, of lawyers, of entrepreneurs and essential workers driven to serve our communities and enact real, lasting change.”

Valedictorian Camille Aquino also talked about the activism in which she and her classmates participated.

“The side effects of lockdown are finally forcing us to see that, even though we all want everything to go back to normal, we really shouldn’t,” Aquino said. “We can’t go back. We have to do better and set new standards for what we deem normal so that everything we went through will not be a waste. This disaster is pointing out all the global tragedies and news that we would ignore, thinking, ‘Not my problem, it’s going to go away,’ by letting us know that we are not invincible to worldwide threat, we are not invincible to the underlying issues of our own country and local community, no matter what class of comfort we stand on. No more returning or restoring whatever to what was. Our systems were broken before we even realized we were the systems, meaning we were broken, too.”

At the end of her speech, Aquino encouraged the Class of 2020 to continue that activism after they receive their high school diplomas.

“I have always believed in the uniqueness of the Class of 2020, especially that of Bloomfield High School. Our class is so diverse in ethnicity, in types of skill and talent, in potential,” she said. “It gives us a bigger opportunity to be more open-minded and more loving to one another. We can’t wait anymore for things to just change because it’s supposed to. We can’t wait for our happy endings to happen because that’s what should happen. We need to write our wishes into reality ourselves.”