CRANFORD, NJ — On Tuesday, June 22, the 320 graduates of Cranford High School’s Class of 2021 were cheered on by a crowd of family and friends at the high school’s Memorial Field. Praising the graduates’ accomplishments despite the COVID-19 pandemic, CHS Principal Mark Cantagallo said he wished them nothing but success, adding he wanted the graduating class to set goals, and that one should be kindness.
“They’ve exceeded expectations in every way, certainly during this challenging year, but throughout their entire 13 years in Cranford Public Schools. This is a great community,” said Cantagallo on Tuesday, June 22. “We couldn’t do it without Dr. Rubin, our superintendent, our Board of Education and all of our safety partners.
“It’s been an amazing year,” he continued. “Kudos to our teachers and our nurse, another group of individuals who’ve exceeded expectations. Just the partnership we’ve had is really the reason why we’re here today. It’s a culminating event, and I’m excited to celebrate their success. I want the graduating class to set goals. One of those goals is to be kind to people every day, and you’re going to be able to change the world and make a difference.”
Leading the graduating class into the future was valedictorian Robert Kelly.
“I’m very proud of being the valedictorian,” Kelly said on Tuesday, June 22. “I’ve been working for this for the past four years, so it’s very nice to have achieved it now. I’m very excited to graduate. It’s a little bittersweet, because I’ve lived in Cranford my whole life, and I’m excited to start a new chapter. After graduating, I’m planning to study political science at Yale.
“Good luck to the graduates, and don’t let other people dictate what you do; do what you want to do,” he added.
Salutatorian Samuel Sullivan felt similarly about the transition.
“I feel good. It’s a little bittersweet, but I’m going to college really far away, and I’m kind of excited to start a new chapter,” Sullivan said on Tuesday, June 22. “I never thought that I would get to be the salutatorian. I was very shocked on the day that I got it, so it definitely feels really good.…
“After high school, I’m going to UCLA for political science,” he continued. “Remember to slow down. I feel like a lot of people go really fast, especially if they’re academically ambitious, but none of that really matters at the end of the day. So just appreciate what is happening right now.”
Class President Olivia Merriman said she felt honored to lead the class.
“It’s been an honor to be working with all my friends and trying to help everyone. It’s been a really great year, despite everything,” Merriman said on Tuesday, June 22. “I’m really excited to graduate. I’m so excited for the future. The past is over now, and it’s time to move on. It’s hard, but we’re all excited.
“My advice for the graduates would be just to work hard and live every day as if it’s your last. I’m going to Clemson University, and I’m going to be majoring in business administration.”
“I’ve been in office for four years. We’re an all-female core graduating together, so it’s actually really special,” class Vice President Savannah Riera said on Tuesday, June 22. “Especially during COVID-19, we’ve lost a lot of our fundraisers, so we all had to rally together to get the job done, but I love it. I love being the communicator between my peers and the class.”
In addition to being excited about graduating, Riera, who moved here in her freshman year, said that her parents were born and raised here and that it was meaningful to her to have a diploma from this school as well.
“Next year, I’m going into the military, so this is a stepping-stone to that, and I’m really excited,” she continued. “After graduating, I’m going to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, starting July 12, and I’ll be there for five years, and then I’ll graduate as an officer in the Coast Guard.
“Really take time to reflect on the people that have been there for you, especially your families and your teachers,” added Riera. “Just take time to be together and never forget the moments and the experiences you went through, and let’s all be successful in our own ways in the future. I thought about that the last day, walking through the high school.”
“I’m really excited,” said Sophia Montague, the secretary of her class, on Tuesday, June 22. “I’ve lived in Cranford my whole life, so this has been a long time coming. It’s weird that it’s finally here, but I’m happy. I’m going to Xavier University and I’m majoring in nursing, and, hopefully, I’ll become a trauma nurse one day.”
“It’s all a little sad, just because I’ve lived here since I was 3 years old. It’s bittersweet,” said class treasurer Jamie Springer on Tuesday, June 22. “It feels good to be the treasurer of the class. I began sophomore year, and I’m really glad I did it and got involved in as much as I could, because, looking back, I definitely would have regretted it if I didn’t do a lot and get involved. I’m going to Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and I’m majoring in marketing.”
When Superintendent of Schools Scott Rubin spoke at the graduation, he beamed with pride.
“We’re celebrating the Class of 2021,” Rubin said on Tuesday, June 22. “We’re incredibly proud of all of our graduates. We’re always proud of our graduates, but, this year in particular, in light of COVID-19, seeing the perseverance and the resilience of our students, they have a lot to be proud of and a lot to celebrate. We’re just happy to be there with them.
“I know that they’re going to be incredibly successful, and I know that we are in great hands. Our future is in great hands,” he added.
Photos by Steve Ellmore