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Class of 2020

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School districts and their students have taken the lead when it comes to a new normal, and perhaps it’s incumbent upon us to follow their lead in our regular lives.

As the coronavirus pandemic progressed, it became apparent to high schools and colleges that the end of the year wasn’t going to be the same for graduates. While institutes of higher learning accepted the fact that an in-person commencement was not going to be possible at the end of May, many school districts held on to the hope that maybe it would happen at the end of June for their students.

But then the pandemic wouldn’t let go.

So high school administrators stepped up to the plate to create alternative events to celebrate the Class of 2020. There were car parades and virtual ceremonies, and when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he would allow 150 people at commencements starting June 26, expectations increased.

Many schools had hoped that if they waited until mid or late July, commencement would resemble what it did in the past with all the graduates in attendance with their family members, just socially distanced and with attendees wearing masks.

However, it wasn’t to be. The guideline for the maximum number for graduations hasn’t increased. Schools quickly made the decision to stick with in-person graduation but split the Class of 2020 into several sections and held the events over the course of multiple days, allowing graduates to bring two guests each. Many schools had sets of three seats spaced out across football fields and lawns, and when it came time for the teens to get their diplomas, they would walk the stage 6-feet apart.

Students may not have been able to celebrate the day with all of their friends, families may not have been able to interact as usual — sharing memories or flashing a smile to each other — and the energy may have been more subdued, but at these events there was at least some sense of normalcy.

School administrators, valedictorians, salutatorians and class presidents presented their speeches at each event. There were still the laughs, the tears and the pride. There were hellos and even extremely quick photo ops, before attendees were ushered off the field to disinfect the chairs before the next group arrived.

The graduation ceremonies being held across the state are just a small step toward normalcy — however, they are significant. Just like the former high school students are taking baby steps toward their futures, the commencements show that we don’t have to live in fear in our homes if we put some thought in our moves like school districts have and proceed with caution.

As our children fearlessly move toward their futures — a new normal — let’s follow their lead. Just like theirs, our future may not look the same. We now need to reimagine social events and interactions with our family and friends, just like districts did across the state, but they have shown it can be done.

Look how considerate and thoughtful our school districts and students have been and compare that to the mass number of people who refuse to socially distance and do the simple favor of wearing masks when out on the town. We can remain disappointed that our lives have continued to be hampered by rules, but the other option is shown in the many other states that are seeing a staggering rise of cases.

We have learned a lot these past few months, and we still have more to comprehend, but we can take steps toward the future and a new normal. One day we’ll look back and realize how much we have learned and grown with safety at the forefront.

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Ward Melville High School held 11 separate socially distanced graduation ceremonies July 18 and July 19 to comply with New York State guidelines.

During the last few months,  like many districts across the state, school administrators discussed several ideas about what to do for graduation. In a letter to Ward Melville seniors and families earlier in July, administrators announced that the school was developing a plan to host in-person commencements over the course of two days.

In June the school had hoped to hold a ceremony with all the students after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the state would allow 150 attendees at graduations, hoping the number would increase. However, when the maximum capacity was not raised, Ward Melville opted for multiple ceremonies where seniors were allowed to bring two guests each and were spread out on the high school’s front lawn.

Each ceremony began with a recorded version of “Pomp and Circumstance” followed by an in-person performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by graduating senior Jordan Amato. Class of 2020 valedictorian William Sun and salutatorian Matthew Fiorella delivered commencement speeches during each of the 11 ceremonies.

Class of 2020 Student Government President Sarah Thornton also announced that this year’s class gift would be a new tree, bench and rock inscribed with a quote at the front part of the school lawn.

Luke Muratore

By Leah Chiappino

Each year, students who earn a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 or higher choose a representative to speak at graduation. This year Luke Muratore received the honor.

Muratore earned a final GPA of 4.52 and will attend University of Maryland, College Park, in the College Park Scholars program. He plans to major in computer science with a minor in business and hopes to work as a software engineer or program manager in New York City one day.

Throughout high school, Muratore served as president of the National Honor Society and as captain of varsity cross-country and varsity track. He was also the public relations officer for the Math Honor Society, Relay for Life team captain and was involved in Athletes Helping Athletes and DECA. Muratore says his favorite high school memory was competing in the Business Olympics.

“It was such an exciting moment to smile and present my team’s idea in front of a crowd of friends, family and teachers,” he said. “Later on in the night when it was announced that we won, I felt such a massive rush of energy.”

The honor speaker said he has his parents to thank for helping him succeed.

“My parents have always been comforting, helpful and inspiring and are a huge reason why I push myself to work hard in everything I do,” he said.

He added that he is grateful for the education he received at Smithtown West.

“I’ve never had a ‘bad teacher’ at Smithtown West,” he said. “Every teacher, coach and club adviser I have met has impacted the way I think in a unique and positive way.”

He added that the district’s efforts to try to “normalize” senior year helped him stay positive in the wake of having events canceled due to COVID-19.

Muratore encourages next year’s seniors to stay positive and to savor their time in high school.

“Make sure to smile, laugh and make the best out of every moment of high school,” he said. “Keep a positive mentality and don’t let the bad moments ruin your year. While we may be having more bad days in coming months, we must focus on the best parts of our lives rather than dwell on the worst. Achieving happiness means brushing off negativity and striving to do well as a person and community.”

As the school year draws to a close, things may be a little different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and remote learning, but that didn’t stop Three Village Central School District teachers, administrators and staff from giving the Class of 2020 a proper send-off.
A car parade was held on the high school grounds May 29 to give Ward Melville seniors and those who have taught them and supported them through the years a chance to say goodbye, even if it was from a distance.
Seniors stayed in their cars and drove around the high school perimeter as district staff members were distanced throughout the grounds holding signs and waving.
The last day of school for Three Village students is June 16.

Stony Brook, NY; Stony Brook University: Graduates visited campus to have photographs taken wearing their caps and gowns.

The usual sea of red caps and gowns were missing from Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook University on graduation day, but the milestone did not go by without a celebration of sorts.

On May 22, the university presented its 2020 Virtual Degree Conferral Celebration in a live stream event that students and families could view. The event included 7,100 graduates, who were awarded a total of 7,190 degrees and certificate completions. The students ranged in age from 18 to 71 and represented 65 countries and 40 states, according to a press release from Stony Brook University.

Michael Bernstein, interim university president, addressed the students during the virtual ceremony.

“You are about to become graduates of one of the most prestigious public universities in the world,” he said. “Graduation is a bittersweet milestone in the best of circumstances, with a pivotal life-chapter ending and an uncertain journey beginning. The strong emotions that inevitably come with this rite of passage are of course uniquely amplified in the midst of the historic upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Julianna Casella, who graduated with a bachelor of science in biology and psychology with a minor in writing and rhetoric, was selected as the Class of 2020 student speaker and was able to address the students during the live stream event.

“I am confident that any other class of Seawolves would have responded the same way [to the pandemic] because that is what we do here at Stony Brook,” Casella said. “Even though much has been lost during this crisis, at the end of the day, two feelings prevail — hope and gratitude. I will always be thankful for the memories and opportunities Stony Brook has given me and if our response to this pandemic has been proof enough, I think we should all be hopeful for what the future holds.”

The decision to hold a virtual ceremony was made in April with Bernstein calling the decision a difficult one that was made “in a deliberate and careful way.” Input from medical experts and the current guidelines from Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State governor’s office were taken into consideration. During the April announcement, Bernstein added that the decision was made to ensure “the well-being of our community and loved ones.”

Back in April, student Muhammad Fithra Yoga started a petition on www.change.org asking SBU to not cancel but postpone the spring commencement ceremony to the summer after the pandemic has passed. More than 1,600 signed the online petition.coron