MANCHESTER — Members of the Manchester Essex Regional High School Class of 2020 were finally able to receive their diplomas in a formal ceremony on Hyland Field on Friday evening.

The 2020 graduation ceremony was originally scheduled for June but was postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Now that Massachusetts has been seeing fewer new cases over the past few months, Gov. Charlie Baker has allowed for more public event flexibility during phase three of his reopening plan. Specifically, starting around mid-July, residents could host larger outdoor events as long as attendees strictly follow all social distancing and face-covering guidelines.

Despite no live music or cap-throwing, the proceedings were similar to others graduations held in years past. Guests of the graduates were designated to their own five-chair section, and each group was spaced 6 feet apart. Once seated in their sections, guests were allowed to remove their masks and enjoy the ceremony.  

Valedictorian Julia Kaper delivered a highly poignant speech about importance of resilience and perseverance through less-than-ideal circumstances. Last fall, Kaper received a major concussion and spent the majority of her senior year undergoing physical, visual and cognitive therapy. 

"The first few months after I hit my head, I felt the negative thoughts and feelings about my situation were suffocating me at all times," she said.  "All I could think about were the senior year milestones I was constantly missing out on ... I'm sure most of you could understand this. Once you acknowledge that the pandemic wasn't just going to magically disappear, you were able to accept the situation for what it was and find a way to make the best of it." 

Teachers and faculty members who spoke at this year's ceremony commended the graduates for their fortitude during such unprecedented times. 

"You have and will continue to charter through uncharted territory," Manchester Essex Regional High School Principal Pat Puglisi told the Class of 2020 during her opening remarks. "You are strong young men and women. I hope you follow your passion and find your version of success." 

Science teacher Dr. Maria Burgess, who delivered the commencement address, lauded her former students' selflessness. 

"You've shown that your identity is important, but your common humanity is what matters the most," she said. "I hope you know that you are equipped with the love, the learning, the compassion, social awareness and the moral code to show your big, wonderful selves to the world and the smilies that are going to keep you on the straight and narrow on whatever you pursue."

Following Burgess's address, graduates walked across the stage to receive their freshly disinfected diplomas and pose for a solo photo. While handshakes were not allowed, Puglisi, Superintendent Pam Beaudoin, and Director of Guidance Beverly Low looked on as their former students took the final steps of their high school education. 

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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