Seniors of the West Milford High School Class of 2020 and their families felt like they were being doubly punished by the Coronavirus Pandemic.
“Distance Learning” on computers from home took the place of in-person classroom instruction and interaction since early March.
Typical end-of-the year-plans and special events for students such as class trips and Senior Prom (just to name a couple of the many) were cancelled. And lastly, the New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy restricted in-person graduation ceremonies, ordering “Virtual Graduations” with gatherings allowed only in groups of 25 people or less.
Families expressed outrage and disappointment regarding having a “Virtual Graduation Ceremony” for this milestone event, one that they and their children had been looking forward to for the past thirteen years.
West Milford School administrators struggled making and changing plans, seeking ways to make the 2020 Graduation Ceremony special for their seniors - while still adhering to the state mandates and restrictions they were required to uphold, and as they were updated weekly by the governor.
And they found a way to succeed.
Through perseverance and collaboration, a plan emerges
Holding a graduation ceremony under slowly easing state restrictions, following a worldwide pandemic and a state quarantine lock down, was not an easy task.
The West Milford School District’s Board of Education, administrators, and Graduation Planning Committees worked together with seniors and parents seeking ideas and suggestions that could possibly work within the state’s changing mandates.
With outdoor restrictions eased a bit by the state in early June, and plenty of room to practice social distancing out in the open, spacious, outdoor venue, the Warwick Drive-In was the perfect solution.
Thus, the Warwick Drive In was reserved and rented out by the West Milford Township Public School District - all three sections and screens- exclusively for the evening of Thursday, June 18, for the Class of 2020’s Virtual Graduation Ceremony.
It was an innovative way for all of the graduating Senior Class members and their families to be able to celebrate together the way they wanted to- as a full class together- while still adhering to the remaining limitations of the state Coronavirus lock down mandates.
Celebrating Highlander Style
On Thursday, June 18, the West Milford High School Seniors and their families decorated their cars and piled in (one-car limit per graduate) and headed over to their High School just before 7 p.m. There, the cars lined up to travel through the township in a Graduation Car Parade, escorted by the WM Police Department, Fire Department and Ambulance Corps.
The parade proceeded through town with lights flashing, sirens blaring, and horns beeping all along the route.
Township residents were invited by the High School to come out along the parade route to wave as the parade passed by.
But the spectacular showing of community support surprised the participants of Senior car parade, as residents lined the sides of the roads in great numbers along the parade route from start to finish; cheering, waving, and holding congratulatory signs for the Class of 2020.
The celebrants paraded to the Warwick Drive-In, which School Administrators, teachers, staff, and volunteers had secretly decorated earlier that day.
The families entered into a “Highlander Wonderland” as West Milford signs, logos, and school colors were displayed everywhere. Black and Gold balloons and ribbons attached to drive in posts floated throughout the entire venue. A giant black and gold balloon archway adorned the parking lot entryway for the cars to drive through as they stopped to show their keepsake ticket to enter.
Even the Highlander’s Mascot, “Bucky” the deer, was there to greet everyone and later posed for photos with graduates and their family members.
Once parked, families set up their folding chairs and blankets next to their vehicles, purchased some refreshments from the Warwick Drive-In’s concession stand, and then kicked back and relaxed, as their excited seniors greeted their friends and posed for photos together.
As the sun set, and the stars lit up the night sky, the WMHS Virtual Graduation Ceremony began at 8:45 p.m. simultaneously presented on all three larger-than-life screens, as well as broadcast live on WM TV Channel 77 and the WMHS TV Science Youtube channel - for those who couldn’t attend in person to be able to watch from home.
Everyone in attendance had a perfect view of the Virtual Ceremony, the speeches given, and of each of the 258 graduates, as their names were read aloud and their yearbook photos were individually displayed on all three movie screens simultaneously.
Cheers from the crowd erupted celebrating each student as their photo came up on the big screens.
The Graduation Ceremony concluded with thunderous applause and cheers after the Grads all stood up together - at wherever they were seated- to ceremoniously move their tassels from right to left, and then toss their caps high into the air.
It was truly a Graduation Celebration to remember; apropos for the occasion, and in leaving the Graduates with one final important life lesson - about using ingenuity in the face of adversity, and persevering to overcome obstacles.
The Class of 2020’s unique Graduation Ceremony will be cherished for many years, and will proudly be recorded in the annals of History at West Milford High School as the first class in the school’s history to have a Township Graduation Parade and their Graduation Ceremony at a Drive-In Movie theater.
Congratulations to the WMHS Class of 2020.