Blackstone-Millville seniors charge ahead ‘to make history’

Blackstone-Millville seniors charge ahead ‘to make history’

Kailey Bisbee picks up her diploma case during graduation ceremonies at Blackstone-Millville Regional High School last Friday afternoon. (Breeze photo by Robert Emerson)

BLACKSTONE – The high-fives were distanced, the music was prerecorded and the crowds were nowhere to be seen as Blackstone-Millville Regional High School celebrated its commencement last Friday, June 5.

And yet somehow, the Class of 2020 managed to recapture the magic of graduation, lifting their chins proudly and basking in the cheers of family and school administrators as they crossed the front steps of the high school in what was certainly a commencement to be remembered.

The socially distanced ceremony kicked off with a prerecorded message from school staff that played on phones and computers across both towns as a parade of vehicles lined up beside the building. Speaking from the school gym, Principal Michael Dudek told graduates not to let the events of the past three months hold them back.

“As you move ahead in your journey, do not let this pandemic define you. Let these experiences only shape you in becoming stronger, more resilient, creative and compassionate women and men,” he said.

Supt. Jason DeFalco echoed the sentiment, explaining the pandemic had taught students to adapt, pivot and change. Speaking in front of the Chargers logo on the front of the school building, he told students they’d need those skills as they charged forward into the next phase of their lives.

“The skills and the lessons that you’ve learned throughout all of this, those things you will carry with you,” he said, adding, “and probably a face mask as you move forward.”

The past few months have been a lesson in adapting for the class of 2020, whose senior year was turned upside down by the sudden onset of COVID-19 in March. Students traded in prom and end-of-year trips for a virtual awards ceremony and last week’s drive-up style graduation. Separated from each other, seniors watched the display from their cars as staff members prepared to call them forward to the space in front of the school.

Despite the changes, the ceremony was a joyful occasion. Many families decorated their vehicles and shouted words of encouragement as the seniors walked, one at a time, across the front steps. Assistant Principal Keith Ducharme read off a list of accomplishments as each senior posed for a photo and climbed back into their vehicle, driving off before the next senior arrived.

At home, thousands followed along, congratulating students in the comments of a Facebook live stream.

Class speakers chose to focus on the positive in their pre-recorded speeches, recalling fond memories of pep rallies and lunches in the cafeteria. Class President Damien Lahousse acknowledged the complicated logistics behind the ceremony, thanking teachers and administrators for supporting students at graduation and over the previous few months.

“There are no words that adequately express what you do here each and every day,” he said.

For Salutatorian Jacob Horn, that commitment extended through all four years of high school, especially in the math department, where he found some his most impactful teachers and classes. Horn thanked his family and teachers and praised his classmates for their resilience in the face of challenges.

“This graduation, while definitely not normal, serves to show the resilience of our class along with the hard work and the dedication that we have all put in, and this is something that we will all be able to look back on and remember fondly,” he said.

Only Valedictorian Erin Brown evoked the full power of the pandemic, pointing out that she and her classmates were born 18 years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nearly two decades later, it was appropriate, she said, that they should graduate in the midst of another tragedy.

At the same time, Brown urged her classmates not to allow the current tragedy to define their paths forward. Just as people today look back on the events of 9/11, she anticipated the day when they would be able to look back on the pandemic and take stock of their lives since.

“I hope that some day, we can take time 18 years from now to reflect on the tragedies that have defined our lives until now, and no longer define our time by these tragedies,” she said. “I hope that we will be able to define our time by the positive impacts we have on the world. We have the power to make history.”