ORANGE, NJ — The Orange School District found a way to celebrate its graduating seniors despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, holding a virtual graduation ceremony for Orange High School on June 25 after the drive-by processional through town on June 18. Footage of the parade, during which students were driven around in their caps and gowns and applauded by their friends, families and district administrators, was shown during the ceremony.
OHS Principal Jason Belton complimented the graduates on their resilience in his speech during the ceremony.
“The new decade began with the untimely death of a basketball legend and the impeachment trial of the president in an election year where for the first time many of you will have the ability to vote. The world is challenged through poverty, racism and global inequalities,” he said. “Despite it all, you have shown resilience and kept moving forward. Although none of you created these problems, they are here and the world needs the resilience of our Class of 2020 to contribute to the solutions. While the traditions and celebrations of your graduating class have been altered by the events of the present, they do not dictate your achievements in the future. Your generation’s ability to keep moving forward will help impact the problems of racism, police brutality, poverty, homelessness and unjust immigration laws. Your goal should be to create the vaccines against the very viruses that have altered our lives past and present. The world will acknowledge the Class of 2020 for their past sacrifices and participation in the solutions for our future.”
Superintendent Gerald Fitzhugh joked in his speech to the graduates that being at home with their families probably has not been easy for the last few months.
“As much as I am sure you love your parents and guardians, I am certain that being home for the majority of the second half of your senior year was not exactly how you envisioned the moments leading up to your graduation,” Fitzhugh said.
He also encouraged the seniors to return to Orange when they finish college or other post–high school plans.
“No one can tell you you are too young to understand or this is how it has always been done. With so much uncertainty, with everything that is suddenly up for grabs, this is your generation’s world to shape,” he said. “Each of us in the school district believes you can shape it in the positive so that those who come after you can benefit in the leadership. Always remember, our community is counting on you to reinvest, reinvigorate and return to Orange Township. Your ability to make this community great is within each of you.”
Salutatorian Zarina Guefack described the noise of the hallways in OHS before the pandemic closed the school, and how the daily routine of school taught her how to be herself.
“During my high school career, I saw so many of my classmates truly enjoy their high school experience. Yes, learning was always going on. But I also saw the random dancing in the hallways, heard the joyful shouting, the students singing while hyping themselves up,” Guefack said. “It was this typical expression of happiness that made my time at Orange High School so memorable. Maybe some other hallways in some other place would be unaccepting of such expression, but not here. Here, our noise is teenagers enjoying their high school years, making the best of the time with their friends without pretense. But it is in other ways much bigger than that. It is our preparation for using our voices to fill silent spaces, of exercising our ability to be exactly who we want and need to be in this world. We are not a silent generation.”
In her valedictory address, Angelica Deoleo Valentin described her struggles with mental health in high school, saying that sometimes she was overwhelmed. Trying to balance volunteer work, sports practices, clubs, grades and a social life was too much, and she found herself not wanting to do any of it.
“Remind yourself that you did what needed to be done, even though you didn’t always want to do it. You rolled yourself out of bed in the morning and you came to school,” Valentin said. “You earned your credit, finished your hours, and you met with your counselors. It seems so easy to doubt yourself in tough times and discount your achievements, so easy to compare yourself to someone else. But you must be proud of yourself. Be proud of everything that has led you to where you are today. Be proud of pushing through anything and everything that stood in your way these past few months and these past three years. Even after everything seemed over for the Class of 2020, we proved again and again our resilience, determination and discipline. We pushed through the hard times and we showed everyone who doubted us that our spirits weren’t so easily broken.”