Though graduation was different than they expected on the first day of senior year, the time to shine for Oceanside High School’s class of 2020 arrived on July 21, when the school district hosted three drive-in graduation ceremonies in Oceanside Park.
Town of Hempstead reserved a parking lot for families to park their cars in every other spot. In the empty spot beside them, parents, siblings and loved ones sat in lawn chairs, held signs and rooted for the graduates. Multiple ceremonies were held to split up the roughly 400 graduates and allow for families and graduates to social distance.
Sticking to tradition, the class of 2020 wore blue and white caps and gowns and filed into their seats in front of the crowd to “Pomp and Circumstance.” On a mobile stage provided by the Town of Hempstead, OHS Principal Geraldine De Carlo began the ceremony, then introduced Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington.
“It is truly so wonderful to see you all here today,” Harrington said. “Students, I know it might be hard to envision the future, but I’ve seen the class of 2020 in action. I’m confident in the strength, intelligence and passion you have to succeed in whatever you do. I know this class shows up.
“Of course, these last few months have taught us to think differently about what that means,” she continued. “Even when we couldn't be with friends and family in person, we were together through caring and kindness. I hope that spirit of human connection that carried our school community through this pandemic stays with you throughout your lives. I hope you continue to show up.”
Salutatorian Rita Bogdanova-Shapkina encouraged her fellow graduates to not wait for tomorrow to have new experiences and work on relationships with friends, family and acquaintances. “Something we’ve all learned this year is that nothing in life is guaranteed,” she said, “and that time and opportunity always fly a lot faster than we anticipate.”
Valedictorian Lucy Lebowitz also spoke about learning through difficult times. “Perhaps the scariest thing to be slapped in the face with before we reach adulthood is this overwhelming realization of how little control we have over our lives and circumstances,” she said. “The only attempt we have at quelling the darkness is our choices.”
Lebowitz called upon her fellow graduates to make choices that will help others and shine a light on injustices. “We as the future leaders of our country must have more empathy than those that came before us,” she said. “We must have uncomfortable conversations, educate ourselves and end the perpetuation of systemic oppression.”
Nicola Ford, class president, then addressed the graduates and families and reminisced on their four years of high school. “Our journey has been built with tears, joy and growth as we as a class have gotten to know each other through field days, team spirit and [Battle of the Classes],” she said.
“Though during our time at OHS we have experienced tragic loss, we have also experienced inumerable bounties that have brought us here today,” she added, thanking parents, friends, teachers and administrators for their support.
Finally, the graduates walked the stage to receive their diplomas. Assistant Superintendents Jill DeRosa and Diane Provvido called each name, and the graduates came on stage one by one for their diploma and a photo op.
De Carlo officially declared the class of 2020 graduated, and the students threw their caps high into the hot, breezy air of the park before returning to their families.
“It has truly been my honor to have worked with such an amazing group of young men and women and to be part of this momentous occasion,” De Carlo said, then added, quoting Abraham Lincoln, “‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’”