ERMA – Everything changed in March for students at Lower Cape May Regional High School (LCMRHS) and throughout the nation. Schools closed, classes went online, and everyone hunkered down at home thanks to the COVID-19 virus that engulfed the world.
For LCMRHS seniors, a break in the state-imposed restrictions on social gathering meant 2020 graduation ceremonies would take place, but wouldn’t look the same as in previous years.
School officials unveiled a graduation June 15 that included a parade, a jumbotron broadcasting the ceremony, and a parking lot full of graduates, their family, and friends at the Cape May County Airport.
LCMRHS Principal Lawrence Ziemba and school officials created a drive-in graduation and commencement ceremony. Graduates were required to ride with families in a single vehicle. Some families solved the issue of fitting everybody into a single vehicle by renting a trolley. The students were encouraged to decorate their vehicles, and most did, with signs, messages written on windows, and blue and gold streamers, the colors of LCMRHS.
Graduates and their families met in the parking lot of the high school before being escorted to the airport via local police vehicles and fire trucks. Family, friends, and residents along the way cheered and waved as the procession passed by.
After all cars were parked at the airport, students and families could observe graduation on a jumbotron and listen to the ceremony on an FM signal.
After the ceremony, students went back to the high school to pick up diplomas.
“Seniors, as you continue on your journey of life, I appreciate your commitment to Lower Cape May Regional High School. As we come together one last time, let us move onward with those ideals that define us. Let us move forward with resilience and hope for brighter days ahead. TIGER PRIDE!!” wrote Ziemba, in a letter to students announcing the ceremony.
Heather Roth is the parent of Makayla Hueber, who graduated June 15, and a teacher in the Lower Township Elementary School District. Roth said the ceremony was excellent, well-planned, and much needed after a “challenging” school year.
“The graduation ceremony was unique, community-based and we loved every minute of it. The energy was infectious, and the parade was much needed after the challenging school year for students and teachers,” Roth said.
Roth predicted the parade would probably be a part of future graduations.
“The town really came together for the kids. It’s nice to live in a place that supports their children,” said Roth.
Hueber said the toughest part of senior year was keeping everything together mentally. Hueber was a vital part of the performing arts program at LCMRHS and had the lead in the school play when it was canceled hours before opening night.
“I was missing friends, coaches, and teachers and dealing with a new way of learning. It was hard, but the online meet-ups with classmates and teammates made it easier as time went on. Also, I think the fact that we were able to finish our senior season of field hockey before all this happened made the whole thing less painful,” Hueber explained.
The field hockey stand-out bound for Cabrini College said she felt blessed to be at home with her siblings and parents.
“There were students that worked and did their schoolwork because they were the only source of income for their household. We learned a lot about responsibility due to this virus,” Hueber said.
The graduation ceremony made up for a lot of what was lost in the abbreviated school year.
“The last three months are supposed to be the best part of high school and we missed that. The graduation ceremony made up for a lot of that. Everybody, the school district, and the community went to a lot of trouble for us. I would take that ceremony over a regular graduation any day. Honestly, it made me love this town even more,” said Hueber.
Emma Golden graduated Summa Cum Laude and said completing Advanced Placement (AP) classes online was difficult, but teachers did a great job helping students get through it.
“Taking the AP courses online was weird, but we had extended review time and I adjusted to it,” said Golden.
Golden played lacrosse all four years of high school, but the season was canceled before even a scrimmage could be played.
“It was hard missing out on my senior season, but we still met online as a team and some teammates even worked out together over the internet,” said Golden, who is heading to Rutgers University - New Brunswick in the fall.
Golden’s mother, Holly Golden, said the graduation ceremony was over-the-top.
“I loved the graduation. The school district did everything possible to celebrate the students. The parade was heartwarming. I felt like a celebrity and the parade wasn’t for me,” Holly said. “The whole thing was perfect.”
Emma Golden concurred.
“I really appreciate what the school did. They made us feel as special as possible,” she added.
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