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Del Val High School honors grads despite pandemic constraints

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With the pandemic making a traditional high school graduation unwise and illegal, Delaware Valley Regional High School has attempted to concoct commencement exercises that will be memorable and meaningful, while obeying directives from Trenton.

Efforts include delivery of caps and gowns to each senior, a parade through Alexandria Township, N.J., a drive-thru ceremony at the high school, and a video featuring each senior and speeches appropriate to the occasion.

The deliveries were made over four days – June 1 to 4. A school bus, with transportation director Jerry Ford at the wheel, pulled up in front of a house, horn honking. Huge banners adorned both sides of the bus: “Class of 2020, We are proud of you!” Piling out of it were board President Ellen Gordon-Obal, Superintendent Daria Wasserbach and Principal Adrienne Olcott, all masked.

Mom usually appeared at the far end of the driveway holding up an index finger indicating “just a minute.” Then a senior would emerge in sweatpants or bathrobe or other variation on “quarantine casual,” with other family members accompanying, shoes optional.

Greetings were exchanged and Olcott handed over a lawn sign featuring that student’s senior portrait, the formal picture often contrasting dramatically with the unbarbered or just-awakened recipient. Gordon-Obal presented varsity blankets and other awards, and Wasserbach preseneted a box containing the graduation regalia, plus a souvenir water bottle and graduation ticket, and a blue-and-gold pandemic mask, featuring the Terrier paw print.

That scene played out about 190 times, ranging from a few nobody-homes to seniors Kevin Burns and Vaughn Murphy who followed the bus on foot to its next stop at Aidan Cohen’s house. In Frenchtown, N.J., at Sarah Nerwinski’s house, her mom said, “She just left for work. Would it be possible to go to the IGA?” It was possible, and senior Adam Johnson was found working at the supermarket, too.

The seniors, glad to see anyone who isn’t part of their household, were generally pleased at the effort to compensate them a little for what the pandemic had snatched away.

“Delivering the gifts and caps and gowns to the kids has been therapeutic,” said Olcott. “There are so many end-of-the-year activities that we missed out on together. It’s really beautiful to see the kids’ faces light up and see their families emote; it’s so touching.”

She thanked her secretary Denise Donnelly for doing the bulk of the prep work, and Ford for figuring out the route and skillfully maneuvering the bus through some tight spots.

On Friday, June 12, these gowned seniors, sealed hygienically inside their family cars, assembled in Alexandria Park. Accompanied by the school bus, fire engines and police cars, they paraded to the high school. There they passed through a balloon arch amid a shower of soap bubbles to receive their diplomas through their windows.

Later that afternoon they and the public could view a special commencement video, put together by TV/video teacher Billy Gregson. It featured speeches by Student Council President Charlie Niebuhr, Class President Jillian Pfefferle, Wasserbach and Olcott, and recognition of each graduate. The video was posted on YouTube and on DVRHS.org, with links sent to seniors and parents through an alert.

A special message to graduates was posted on the school website from Alex MacNicoll. Class of 2007. He is a working actor with an impressive and growing array of TV and movie credits. He has been selected for the Del Val Hall of Fame for the Arts, with induction postponed to 2021.

“I feel so bad for our seniors,” said Olcott. “The pandemic has robbed them of the prom, the Project Graduation cruise, Senior Field Day, and months of face-to-face time with their teachers and classmates. But we are doing our best to show our seniors that we love them, virus or no virus.”


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