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Graduation Above and Beyond Expectations

The COVID-19 Pandemic stole many important senior year events from the Class of 2020 but they were not stripped of a graduation ceremony. Notre Dame Principal Mrs. Joanna Barlow along with her administrators and staff, worked tirelessly to organize and execute 286 individual graduations. This all happened while still managing the cyberlearning platform that took the place of traditional learning for all of our students during this difficult time. 
From May 31 to June 2, 2020, Mrs. Barlow along with Notre Dame President Ken Jennings, witnessed as each senior had the opportunity to have their name called and walk across the stage to receive their diploma. The stage was not the traditional one at the Cure Arena, but instead, Notre Dame’s beautiful grotto was the backdrop for these special moments. The planning was well organized, with social distancing restrictions in mind, as each student and their immediate family were led through a series of stations set up on Monsignor Nolan Field that brought them finally to Our Lady’s Grotto resplendent in beautiful floral displays. Each graduate was videotaped as they picked up their diplomas and these individual graduations were compiled into one video that was shown on June 7, 2020, Notre Dame Graduation Day.

As happens at every graduation, there were commencement speeches. In his opening remarks, President Ken Jennings spoke to the graduates of their strength, “Through all of the disappointments and despair, you have survived, better yet, you have thrived, you have made the best of a very difficult situation - not complaining, disappointed but determined with grit and resilient resolve to move forward to this day: the day of your graduation to mark a milestone that you will never forget, a day in which all of your hard work here at Notre Dame has come to an end, but you are now prepared for this new beginning.”
 
In addressing her classmates, Class of 2020 Valedictorian, Marissa Vizzoni spoke of lessons she learned as a student, “Notre Dame High School has shown me how to ride the roller coaster and follow through on many levels. It has allowed me to nurture relationships that brought me new friends and strengthened relationships with many old ones. I have come to understand just how important all these friendships are. Without these people who mean so much to me, high school would have been a completely different experience, an experience I do not want to imagine.”
 
The Class of 2020 Salutatorian, Brayden Meskill reminded his classmates how amazing they are, “Our class has been an exceptional class--excelling in academics, athletics, performing arts and service. Along with other great accomplishments achieved by this amazing class, such as 118 colleges next year, two classmates will be attending the military, we captured more than 20 CVC Championship Titles, multiple MCT and Sectional State Championships. Cortaz Williams set a new school rushing record while Seamus Harding now holds every state of New Jersey diving record; along with 35 Seniors continuing their athletic careers at the collegiate level. Performing Arts put on a masterpiece show every year, that we found in The Little Mermaid, Shrek, Guys and Dolls and Beauty and the Beast this year. And each of us proudly contributing to the 35,000 service hours achieved over our past four years.”   
 
Special awards were also presented during the taping of our virtual graduation event. They included: 
Award for Excellence in Religion (Gold Medal, Gift of the Most Reverend George W. Ahr, S.T.D.) – Luke Casimir Okupski 
Principal’s Award: Quentin Simon Autry
Irish Spirit Award: Rachael Doan
Service Presentation: Zachary Christopher Klein and Alexa M. Ryan
 
Academic Honors went to:
Nolan Brody 
Joseph P. Hoffman
Jillian Elizabeth Cary 
Kathryn Rose Honnig
Nicholas Anthony DeMille 
Dora D. Krstic
Sara Bryony Gemmell 
Joshua Emmanuel Romero
Molly Catherine Hart 
Marisa Elizabeth Vizzoni
 
Many other awards, including Athletic awards, were presented the to graduating class during our virtual Senior Awards night on June 4. The list of awards is available for viewing on the Notre Dame website, Class of 2020 page. Notre Dame is also proud to announce that our graduating Class of 2020 has been awarded scholarships which amount to more than $37,498,826.

Principal Mrs. Barlow concluded the virtual graduation describing the Class of 2020 in one word, “…I would say you are resilient. COVID 19 happened to you but how you responded was extraordinary.  You responded with maturity, compassion, creativity, and bravery.  Your class has proven that together you can adapt to any circumstance. Class of 2020 you are our hope.”

It took weeks of planning on the part of Notre Dame administration and staff, 3 days of filming and many more hours of editing by Mr. Dave Chebra and alumni, Aaron Bartuska ’16 who produced a beautiful video presented on Sunday, June 7. The video is available for viewing on the Notre Dame website and our YouTube Channel, NotreDameHS1957.

The virtual commencement began with a live-streamed Baccalaureate Mass from the Notre Dame Chapel celebrated by ND Chaplain, Fr. Jason Parzynski. The mass included a special homily message from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.  Traditionally at graduation, the Golden Irish Honor Guard lead the graduating class into the arena. This year a special message from the Golden Irish Class of 1970 was presented virtually to the graduates.

The Class of 2020 did not miss out on any of the special traditions that make up a Notre Dame graduation! In addition, due to the efforts of our Advancement Office and members of the PTA, Post Prom and Fashion Show committees, the Class of 2020 were treated to gifts in the weeks prior to graduation as well as an abbreviated version of our Post Prom event. 

Many Notre Dame parents expressed their gratitude for the efforts that went above and beyond to make sure our seniors were recognized. This is just one of the many comments we received, “In the end, there was no disappointment felt, only enjoyment, gratitude and pride. The whole series of events was so highly organized and well thought out, and I give you all so much credit for pulling it off. The lengths you went to in order to make our seniors feel recognized, involved, and not forgotten in this crazy time in our world were so impressive, and we appreciate everything from the bottom of our hearts.  I can only imagine these events (like a 3-day stage walk, vs. 90 minutes ordinarily) took much more time and effort than a typical graduation. And this was on top of everything else consuming your time as you adjusted to running a virtual high school with no warning. Please accept our deepest thanks. God Bless You All!”

Our administration, faculty and staff have proven once again, why Notre Dame is a special place where we will go above and beyond to create a nurtured environment of learning for each and every student. Congratulations Class of 2020! We are so proud of you!
 
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Notre Dame High School

Located on 100 beautiful acres in Central New Jersey, Notre Dame High School, founded in 1957, is a college preparatory school for grades 9 - 12, preparing young men and women for lives of purpose, built upon a foundation of Catholic faith, with a commitment to academics, co-curricular activities and service to others.