GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge High School seniors finally got a graduation ceremony on July 24, as the Glen Ridge School District held an in-person event for the 129-member Class of 2020. Aside from attendees wearing masks and having to spread out to stay 6 feet apart on Hurrell Field, the ceremony was pretty similar to how it would have been had it been in June, as normal.
“Recently, life has been hard for everyone, and this school year has been uniquely untraditional for us seniors,” Class of 2020 President Campbell Moriarty said in her speech at the ceremony. “It is hard not to focus on everything we missed, but looking back on our high school years, we have been insanely lucky to have grown up together. This town and school system has given so much to us. All 129 of our graduates have a personal relationship with each other, which is not something that most high school students get to experience.”
Moriarty said that while she didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her classmates when she left school on March 13, the last day before the pandemic shut schools down, she has been thinking about them over the last several months.
“Throughout this unprecedented time, I have thought about each and every one of you,” Moriarty said. “Not being together has allowed me to think back and appreciate our grade and the years together that we were so lucky to have. Our time apart has brought out the exceptional nature of the Class of 2020. We have experienced a global pandemic and have participated in the recent movements that have swept across the nation. We stood up for others who needed their voices to be heard and helped in the effort to combat COVID-19 in the best way we could. This is not what we imagined our graduation would look like, in the July heat and 6 feet apart, but if anything, it reflects our resilience.”
GRHS seniors chose among themselves a student to speak at graduation, and this year’s class chose Jack Byrne. To begin his speech, Byrne thanked the district and Mayor Stuart Patrick for not holding a virtual graduation.
“It’s really great seeing everyone in 3D,” he joked, before describing his sixth-grade performance of a Shakespeare sonnet, in which he forgot his lines and ran offstage. “The next day, these guys weren’t going, ‘Look, it’s the kid who couldn’t finish “Sonnet 12.”’ They said, ‘Good job, Jack,’ knowing full well that the job wasn’t good. It’s that kind of sisterhood, brotherhood, otherhood that represents the supportive nature of this class. It’s that kind of culture that breeds success, like those full bleachers at the boys soccer state finals.”
Byrne described the ways in which GRHS students were able to come together, even while they were not able to be together physically.
“We found ways to be loud on social media, fighting climate change and racial injustice. We are loud when it comes to what we care about. Some of us are just plain loud,” he said. “Let your voices be heard. Let your emotions be loud.”
The Citizenship Cup award was presented to Matthew Gomez; salutatorian Taylor Townsend and valedictorian Haleigh Pine were both given medals for their achievements. Before Superintendent Dirk Phillips awarded graduates their diplomas, Pine urged the other graduates not to let the end of their school year define them.
“Even though we are members of a historic class, we are not going to be defined by a global pandemic,” she said in her speech. “We are state championship athletes and award-winning musicians. We are talented artists and confident performers. We are enthusiastic fans and dedicated friends, funny extroverts and quiet thinkers. We are social activists and community leaders. We have organized climate change protests, created cultural awareness clubs and fought against racial injustices. We are kind, we are compassionate, we are spirited and we are engaged.”