Montclair High School’s Class of 2022 faced a ‘unique’ four years
(VIKTORIA POPOVSKA/MONTCLAiR LOCAL)
The Montclair High School graduating seniors know a thing or two about perseverance.
On the second day of their freshman year, a collapsed stairwell led to canceled classes and altered schedules.
During their sophomore year, they transitioned to remote learning as the coronavirus began to spread through the country. What was initially expected to be a two-week virtual learning period lasted for more than a year.
In their junior year, they continued with remote learning, participating in extracurriculars via Zoom and doing their best to pay attention while their teachers and classmates spoke through a computer screen.
For their senior year, they returned to in-person learning, but were faced with continued coronavirus risks, forced to adapt to changing rules when case numbers spiked.
The unique experience of the Class of 2022 was emphasized over and over again during the 155th Montclair High School commencement ceremony on Tuesday, June 28. The ceremony was held at the high school’s amphitheater.
Students, teachers and administrators spoke during the ceremony of the many challenges the seniors have faced, but they also emphasized the unanticipated outcome — being better prepared for what lies ahead.
The seniors have probably had the least normal Montclair High School experience ever, Senior Class President Leon Wang said at the ceremony.
“It always felt like we were taking one step forward and three steps back,” Wang said.
But by the time the students reached senior year, things began to look up, he said.
“Senior year was a year of growth,” he said. “We went through the motions and settled in.”
During his time at Montclair High School, through the good moments and the bad, Wang said he learned an important lesson — the importance of forging your own path through whatever life is throwing your way.
“Listen to your heart because it will always guide you in the right direction,” he said.
Wang told Montclair Local it was hard to believe that high school was over.
“Our experience at Montclair High was far from normal, but I can walk away feeling fulfilled and knowing that we as a class have grown so much through our unique experiences,” he said. “I am beyond proud of all of us.”
Student Coalition President Jesse Pepper echoed Wang’s sentiments that the graduating seniors have learned many things while constantly adapting to the changing environment around them.
“Everyone is just taking it one step at a time because no one really knows what’s going on,” Pepper said, adding that it's also OK to not know everything.
The Class of 2022 will be remembered for reminding everyone of the importance of community and relying on that community in times of hardship, Principal Jeffrey Freeman said.
“The past four years presented numerous challenges, which you have faced with grace and perseverance,” Freeman said. “I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve as your principal.”
Latifah Jannah, Montclair Board of Education President, said the graduating seniors “are a class of strength and courage.”
“The path you have walked the past four years has not been an easy one,” Jannah said.
Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds congratulated the graduating seniors during the ceremony and read a declaration stating that the Class of 2022 had met graduation requirements.
In a June 23 community message posted to the district website, Ponds called the 2021-22 school year “like no other.”
“I happened to have a conversation with some students early in the year, and when they said, ‘School is starting to feel normal this year,’ it made me even more committed to standing by our students and providing them opportunities they truly deserve,” Ponds said in the message.
The graduation ceremony’s keynote speaker, Glenfield Middle School teacher Dan Gill, shared four lessons with the graduating seniors, telling stories of his experiences growing up in New York City and working as a teacher in Montclair for 52 years.
Be thankful to those who support you, improve your literacy, vote, and don’t lose hope in the common man, Gill advised the seniors.
“You lost valuable opportunities for social and emotional growth, but you have met these many challenges and here you sit today,” he said. “All of you have a story, share it.”
The graduation ceremony concluded with students walking across the amphitheater's bridge over Toney’s Brook, and in doing so, participating in a long-held tradition at Montclair High School. The students then boarded school buses for a parade through town before they traveled to a post-graduation party sponsored by Project Graduation, an organization that has been facilitating alcohol- and substance-free post-graduation events since 1990.