SPRINGFIELD, NJ — On Wednesday, June 16, 184 graduates of Jonathan Dayton High School celebrated four years of accomplishments at a ceremony on the school’s football field. After the event, senior class adviser Mary Cokeing said she was at a loss for words.
“This day is amazing because I’ve been with this class for four years,” Cokeing said. “I hate to say goodbye. They’ve grown together, they’ve done so much and they’ve been through so much. They can do anything they put their minds to. I think the speeches that the students gave summed it up beautifully. Abbey and Emma both gave the senior class a charge to go forward, take what they’ve learned and do something with it, and use the power that they have now to make change for the better.”
At the graduation, families and guests were seated behind the graduating senior class on the field. Additional attendees, including teachers, sat in the bleachers. The first student to welcome the guests that evening was Student Council President Alexander Gary, who described how he felt about graduating and his plans going forward.
“I’m excited,” Gary said on Wednesday, June 16. “It’s been a long time coming. I didn’t know if we were going to be able to do this in person, so I feel great that we were actually able to have this, and I feel excited for the Class of 2021. Next year, I’m going to the University of Maryland in College Park, and I’m going to major in journalism, so I’m excited for what’s next.”
The Jonathan Dayton High School band sang uplifting melodies that moved the crowd. Class salutatorian Abbey Hochreiner began her speech by recalling where it all started for the graduates, in various elementary schools so many years ago, and them all joining together as one freshman class years later. Hochreiner also spoke about what this meant to her.
“I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter, but I’m going to miss all of my friends and the teachers,” Hochreiner said on Wednesday, June 16. “I’m going to Tulane University in New Orleans, and I’m going to be studying finance and international relations.”
Class valedictorian Emma Mohabir encouraged graduates with a moving speech that challenged them not to fear the unknown but, instead, to confront challenges; not feel discouraged by mistakes, but to learn from them and embrace the unfamiliar.
“It didn’t really hit until now, and I generally didn’t process this until now,” Mohabir said on Wednesday, June 16. “I’m kind of getting emotional and it’s crazy, because you spend 13 years in Springfield, and, now, you’re going to the real world. It’s crazy. After graduation, I plan on attending Princeton University during the fall, and I’ll be majoring in neuroscience on the pre-med track.
“I would have never envisioned being in this position when I stepped into Jonathan Dayton as a freshman,” she added.
Senior Class President Aiden Forys also spoke about his big plans after leaving high school, adding that he felt a bit emotional during the ceremony.
“I’m so excited. It’s awesome,” Forys said on Wednesday, June 16. “I’m also very, very sad, too, and it’s a mix of emotions right now, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s a great group of people. I’m going to Lehigh University and study engineering so, hopefully, I’ll be an engineer in four years, but things can change.
“As the class president, I had to represent the class,” he continued. “This year was definitely hard, and harder than most years, planning events like prom and things like that, but it’s mostly easy. This class is awesome. They come to all the events we plan, and they make everything fun and made my job easier. I may cry after this whole thing is over. It’s hard to leave everyone, because I’ve grown up with everyone here.”
Principal Norman Francis addressed the graduating class before they were given their diplomas, saying how bittersweet their leaving was for him. He also spoke about plans for the upcoming school year in the face of COVID-19.
“It feels amazing,” Francis said on Wednesday, June 16. “It’s been a long journey. The students have experienced a lot. They’ve lost a lot in the last couple of years, and we got to see some of that come back at the end of the year. And then, to end it all on a beautiful night and perfect weather, I’m just very happy for them and to give them the send-off they deserve.
“Next year, we plan on opening up, per the governor’s orders, to be full and in person,” he continued. “We’ll see what happens over the summer.… We just don’t know. But we’ll be ready to receive students and try to get back to a sense of normalcy.”
Photos by David VanDeventer