Spirits were high as the Lawrence High School Class of 2022 came together one last time as a class.
The 300-plus seniors gathered at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton for the high school’s 54th annual graduation ceremony on June 21.
The Trenton Ancient Order of the Hibernians Pipe Band, its members dressed in kilts, led the way onto the arena floor, followed by the school district’s administrators, school board members, faculty and staff.
As “Pomp and Circumstance” played, the seniors walked purposefully onto the court. Their faces showed a range of emotions – from shy and bewildered, to big smiles while some enthusiastically waved to their family and friends in the stands. Whoops and catcalls abounded from the stands.
Once his classmates had settled into their seats, class President Noah Lehrfeld welcomed his fellow students, their families and friends.
Noah recounted some of the class’s high school highlights from the theater department plays to sports. But one of his favorite memories is the Jeopardy theme that was played over the speakers every morning, which seemed to become louder every day.
“While we enjoyed those moments, high school did not come without some adversity. Let’s go back to March 13, 2020. I remember coming back from lunch and my friend Zach came running into class announcing how we were going to have online school for two weeks,” he recalled.
“Everyone cheered. School from home. A dream came true. What could go wrong? Little did we know what the future had in store for us at that moment. It was the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Noah said while the future is uncertain, it also opens the door to endless possibilities.
“The Class of 2022 dealt with more issues in their four years at Lawrence High School than some other classes will have to deal with in their whole lives,” he said, adding their shared experiences and adversity brought the class closer together.
In turn, Lawrence High School Principal David Adam praised the Class of 2022 for how it overcame some of the most adverse challenges that the country has ever faced. The seniors have grown and matured over the past four years, and they are more than ready to make their own paths in the world, he said.
“What we have learned during these most challenging times is that life does not always go the way you planned it. Life is complicated and it has many unexpected twists and turns that you may not have easy answers for,” Adam said.
“While adversity in their lives is inevitable, it does not necessarily have to prevent them from reaching their goals and finding happiness. It’s more about how they overcame those adversities that will reveal each person’s character.
“Let me leave you with these words from author Harold Kushner. ‘Do things for people not because of who they are or what they can do in return, but because of who you are’,” Adam said.
Salutatorian Jerry King said they faced many challenges during their four years at Lawrence High School. They adapted to different learning styles – from in-person to virtual learning and hybrid instruction and finally back to the classroom – because of the pandemic.
“The challenges of that time were so clearly worth it when we all came back together this past fall. I am thankful that we had the opportunity to experience the joys of senior year together [from] the gridlock of senior parking [to] messing with our favorite teachers,” he said.
“We may have thought that all the odd things we were learning in school had no real-world value, but the trials that we have had to overcome are the real training that school has provided for us.
”I can’t promise you that what you do in the future will be easy, but I can promise you that it will be worth it,” Jerry said, quoting Theodor Seuss Geisel, the children’s book author better known as Dr. Seuss.
Class Valedictorian Nandini Swami said that for many of them, “this is the moment we have been waiting for. We can finally grab our diplomas and be done with high school, and to some extent, I share that sentiment.”
“However, now comes a turning point in our lives. We stand at the cusp of ending our high school career, and some may argue the end of our childhood. In front of us lies an entirely new reality,” she said.
“Some classmates may go to college, while others may enter the workforce and a handful will be joining the military. Regardless of the choice, we are back to square one, as we begin again to find our way in the world.
“We are setting off on a journey where, most likely, no one knows who we are besides ourselves. Take up space and be confident. Take comfort in the fact that we made it this far, despite our collective challenges, so we can make it through whatever lies ahead,” Nandini said.
School board President Patricia Farmer, who graduated from Lawrence High School in 1986, told the students that the school board works tirelessly and is committed to providing the best possible education for them.
“Hope leads to change. I am hopeful for what the future holds, with all of you leading the way. You have inspired us. I’m going to make a shameless plug to consider a career in education. We need you,” Farmer said.
School board member Michele Bowes, whose son was among the graduates, told the seniors that she was standing at the podium as a member of the community that supported them on their journey toward graduation.
“This network of support that we call ‘community’ has been, and will be, there for you when you need us [including] parents, grandparents, teachers, school nurses and guidance counselors,” Bowes said.
“When you feel stressed and scared or sick and tired, when life feels like too much, remember the community of people who are there for you with love and support. Go forward toward your future knowing that we have your back.”
After the speeches, the long line of seniors – one by one – walked up the steps to the stage and with a handshake from Adam and Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun, they picked up their diplomas. Then they walked down the steps to the area floor and gave a fist bump to Police Officer Steve Austin, the school resource officer at the high school.
As the last senior crossed the stage and collected her diploma, her classmates stood up and cheered. When she reached the end of the stage, she hopped in the air and walked down the steps to the arena floor and raced back to her seat.
Adam called Noah back to the front of the stage to lead the class in the traditional turning of the tassel on their mortarboard caps.
“Parents, guardians, fellow educators, guests and our students. I am so very pleased to present to you the Lawrence High School Class of 2022. Noah, take it away,” Adam said.
And with a turn of the tassel, the Lawrence High School Class of 2022 are now off to their next chapters in life.