The Westfield High School Class of 2020 officially received their diplomas on Thursday, July 9 after a thunderstorm cut short the initial commencement ceremony the day before.
With folding chairs set six feet apart on the field at Gary Kehler Stadium, 477 high school seniors progressed in a single file line on Wednesday, July 8. Principal Mary Asfendis welcomed the graduates, beginning the ceremony with a moment of silence to remember three members of the high school community who have died – students Carter Uziel and Terry DiFalco and former principal Dr. Derrick Nelson.
Asfendis recognized educators, parents, and guardians who, due to social distancing restrictions, could not attend. She asked the students to stand and applaud these “significant adults” in their lives, many of whom were watching the livestreamed ceremony remotely.
Asfendis also paid tribute to student achievements including 4 National Merit Finalists, 20 National Merit Commended Students, 211 graduates elected into the National Honor Society, 283 recipients of the President’s Education Award and more than 100 students who were honored with a variety of scholarships and awards from nearly 140 different organizations.
Senior Class President Alexis Hammer, a sprinter on the high school track and field team, compared high school to a 400-meter dash, adding that “perspective plus positivity equals perseverance.” She urged her fellow graduates to use their voices to stand up for what they believe in, predicting that the “Class of 2020 will do incredible things.”
In his address to his fellow graduates, Student Government President John Czarnecki said he wanted to focus on “the time before you had to wear a mask to graduation.” He noted that every moment “spent daydreaming about the future” means missing something in the present, as he held up a plaque that said “Don’t forget to enjoy the journey.”
The ceremony came to a close on Wednesday when a thunderstorm forced the gathering off the field just as students were prepared to cross the stage to receive their diplomas.
The next day, before diplomas were handed out by Board President Peggy Oster, Asfendis spoke to the Class of 2020 about expressing and sharing gratitude and finding silver linings in the midst of a pandemic. Her silver linings, she said, include increased time with family, witnessing students stepping up and speaking out, athletes continuing to work out despite a canceled season, and senior class officers who made sure student voices were represented in graduation decisions.
“And there is Alexis Hammer, who wrote the letter that brought us here today,” Asfendis said about Hammer’s Instagram posting to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy in May that questioned why beaches were being opened but graduations were not allowed.
As she concludes her first year as principal of Westfield High School, Asfendis expressed her own gratitude to the Class of 2020 for their strength, resilience, community, caring, and determination.