Amity High School Class of 2020 took leave from their alma mater with a graduation ceremony like none other: In carefully scheduled waves, the families assembled in the Assumption Church parking lot on June 10, then proceeded to the back entrance of the high school, and finally proceeded — four cars at a time — to the curb of the school’s main entrance.
Dressed in cap and gown, graduates got out of the family car, removed the mask to reveal big smiles, and had a photograph taken, then received their diploma, and moved the tassle on their cap to signal a new stage in their lives. No hand-shakes and certainly no hugs, but the teachers directing the cars cheered as best they could.
There were speeches and congratulations, but those were recorded separately from the main event, and had been broadcast the night before. The hashtag #Amitystrong was created just for this class, said Principal Anna Mahon in her address, and it was with good reason
The 17- and 18-year-old graduates of the Class of 2020 had already experienced how unexpected events could require a change of direction, without asking whether they were ready for them or not. Class President Jayson Hutchinson for example remembered how his sixth grade graduation had been impacted by frozen pipes at Peck School. The flooding had caused his school population to be scattered for the rest of the school year.
Even so, or maybe because they had already experienced the extraordinary, he encouraged his classmates to walk confidently into the future.
“Why go back?” he said. “What is the normal we so desperately want to restore? A world with injustice and inequality?”
The world needs new answers. “Let us be that answer,” he encouraged his classmates. “Let us be the change in this world.”
Sophia Wang, who was chosen to address her fellow graduates based on academic excellence, also touched on the need to embrace change.
As a class, they had survived “a tornado, a few hurricanes and today, we are braving the storm of a global pandemic,” she said. Circumstances forced this generation to develop a new virtue: sacrifice, she said, referring to the fact that they had to stay home for the benefit of society.
“Today, change has never seemed so constant,” she said, adding her conviction that this crop of new Amity graduates are ready to meet that challenge head-on.
“We’re a class of dreamers,” she said, “and dreams will change over time.”
Speaking of the unsettled world they are about to enter, she said “our country is at a breaking point. … Change becomes a necessity for the survival of our country.”
Martin Gnidula spoke about the particular strength of this class of 2020. “We are the class that will make history,” he said. “History not shrouded in sadness and contamination, but a history that we get to shape with our knowledge of what it means to love and to lose – all the while feeling powerless and scared,” he said.
The virtual ceremony included the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Junior Class President Isabella Pfannenbecker, also addresses from Principal Anna Mahon, School Supt. Dr. Jennifer Byars, and Board of Education Chairman John Belfonti. Jill LaPlante, Director of Counseling Services, presented the Amity Award of Excellence to Danielle Lee.
Amity graduation was a drive-by event this year. The teachers and administrators did their best to celebrate the class of 2020.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent