Jersey City celebrated its 2020 graduates with eight virtual graduation ceremonies last week due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which robbed them of in- person instruction, the prom, and other senior traditions.
The virus caused schools to close in March to all in-person instruction and has claimed the lives of 488 Jersey City residents and infected 6,376 residents.
Although virtual, students donned their caps and gowns and heard from fellow classmates, valedictorians, salutatorians, as well as advisers, principals, and local officials.
One common theme throughout the graduations: resilience.
Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker said the graduates have demonstrated that they are resilient.
“Resilience because you’ve demonstrated your ability to overcome obstacles time and time again,” Walker said. “Your ability to adapt in the face of adversity has been exceptional. The setbacks, the barriers, and reduced resources that have been produced during the COVID-19 health pandemic gave the community the chance to see how strong and resilient you are.”
He said these obstacles only made them stronger and will help them be successful as they enter the next chapter of their lives.
Mayor Steven Fulop noted that it wasn’t just the public health emergency that the students had to overcome.
“This class lived first hand through the terrifying experience of a mass shooting in December that triggered a lockdown for all our schools, but despite that, with limited information and a lot of fear through- out the city, we saw our students act with calmness and bravery,” Fulop said.
“Just think, we saw budget cuts from Trenton to our schools with the largest level of funding cuts of any city in the history of New Jersey, and we got through that as well. The truth is, you not only got through it but you demonstrated that Jersey City tenacity time and again, and you showed that nothing can stop you.”
He said that while it wasn’t the graduation he knew the students had imagined, graduating virtually didn’t diminish the extraordinary accomplishments the moment represented.
“You’ve seen a lot. You’re tough. You are fair. You are compassionate and your work ethic is second to none,” Fulop said. “It’s often said that the hardest times lead to the greatest moments in life, and I’m quite sure that this will be a fitting description for the class of 2020.”
Board of Education President Lorenzo Richardson said the students demonstrated resilience, perseverance, and the ability to adapt to change, but did not do it alone. He thanked their parents, families, teachers, and school staff for helping them on their journey.
“The world is a different place right now, but that is okay because with faith, determination, and work you’ll be able to meet the challenges ahead of you,” Richardson said.
“My last words of advice to you are to live healthy and honestly, treat those you come across with respect, compassion, and understanding, and you will continue to be blessed in everything you do. There will always be difficulties along the way, that is how life is, but when you live right everything will be all right.
“As you leave here and go take your place and live your purpose in the world, lead by example, always do your best, and represent Jersey City Public Schools well.”
Change the world
Looking to the future, Walker noted that the class of 2020 represented the largest generation of youth the world has ever seen with 1.2 billion people between 15 and 24 years old.
“While you may be 16 percent of the global population, it’s important for you to know you are 100 percent of the future,” Walker said. “It’s your generation that will play a critical role and have a major impact on unemployment, gender equality, world conflicts, combating poverty and hunger, environmental issues, climate change, and new technologies, just to name a few.”
He said he, district teachers, and parents of the class of 2020 look forward to seeing the class of 2020 make a better future.
“You will continue to find out there are no wasted educational experiences, and these experiences will continue to teach and lead you toward many future successes,” said Walker, reminded graduates of their civic and social responsibilities in a democracy to protect and ensure freedom of choice for future generations.
“It has been said democracy will not succeed unless those who express their choices are prepared to choose wisely,” Walker said. “The real defense of democracy is education … If you have the skills, the education, and opportunity to upgrade and improve both, you will have the opportunity to compete and win anywhere in the world.”
To watch the virtual ceremonies go to https://www.jcboe.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=1577781&type=d&pREC_ID=1705346