West Hartford’s Hall High School held its ‘drive-in graduation’ in front of an audience of well over 300 families on Wednesday night.
By Dexter McCann and Melanie Grados. Photos by Hunter Marotto and Ronni Newton
It was an evening full of excitement and joy as Hall’s Class of 2020 celebrated with an in-person graduation at the Farmington Polo Grounds on Thursday.
Upon arriving at the Farmington Polo Grounds, students were greeted by Hall faculty and staff as they parked facing a pop-up stage and big screen TV that displayed the commencement. Graduates and their loved ones listened to the ceremony over the air on 94.5 radio. Additionally, the ceremony was telecast via live stream on whctv.org, Comcast Cable Channel 5, Frontier TV Channel 6098. The ceremony will be rebroadcast on Comcast Cable Channel 96 and available on YouTube.
Despite the unorthodox circumstances surrounding graduation, many Hall students seemed genuinely grateful to be able to celebrate their graduation in-person.
“I think it [the graduation] was really well planned, and I definitely like this idea more than an online or virtual graduation,” said Jenna Surowiec, a member of the graduating class.
“It shows how much the staff and teachers really care about us,” she added.
“Graduation is definitely unusual this way, but I’m excited that we were able to celebrate in a way that was fitting for the current situation,” added Brett Berman, another member of the Class of 2020.
The ceremony began the pledge of allegiance led by Hall senior and student association board member, Isabella Galm. Following Galm, the audience enjoyed a virtual version of the National Anthem by the Hall Choraliers with musical accompaniment.
Following the national anthem, Hall principal Daniel Zittoun offered some brief but powerful opening remarks.
Zittoun began by acknowledging that reality is often out of our control, and that COVID-19 and its fallout was not due to any bad choices, but was unavoidable. He did, however, note that the challenges surrounding the virus would help to prepare the graduates for an unpredictable world.
“You may not realize it now, but the lessons you learned and the challenges you overcame will serve you well down the road.”
“The reality is that some of those challenges might have looked bigger had you not gone through this experience,” he added.
Zittoun then went on to share a personal story from his childhood, recalling a middle school trip to Washington D.C. that was cancelled. Years after that cancellation, he and two other friends from school made the trek to the nation’s capital to make up for the trip that never was.
That trip was even better than Zittoun could have imagined, but it was neither the monuments nor the museums that made it special. Rather, it was the people he traveled with that made the trip something to remember, and, to that point, he urged Hall’s Class of 2020 to keep in touch with the classmates they journeyed through high school with.
“Focus on the experiences you did have, because those can never be taken from you, and create your own experiences with friends when it is safe to do so,” concluded Zittoun.
Tom Moore, superintendent of West Hartford Public Schools, was next to speak, and he referenced his favorite artist, Bruce Springsteen, when reflecting on the class of 2020.
“The great American artist and poet Bruce Springsteen talks about one central idea as he’s gone through life … we’re all just broken pieces, and we spend our life trying to find the people whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces and make us whole.”
Moore continued by elaborating on how the Class of 2020 fit together as a whole.
“The class of 2020 isn’t 400 disparate memories and disparate brains. It’s one, with a lot of different pieces that have come together.”
Moore concluded with one final piece of advice: “You’ll be independent only when you depend on each other, just as you have the past four years.”
Next to speak was Mark Zydanowicz, Board of Education Representative and father of Jenna Zydanowicz, a graduate in the Hall class of 2020 and member of the state champion girls cross country team.
Zydanowicz remarked on the accolades Hall had earned during the 2019-2020 school year, including a “gold medal” from the U.S. News, which is awarded to high schools ranked in the top 5% nationwide.
“You must know that it’s our school system that gets recognized and our students are the real winners.” he added.
Zydanowicz took the time to reflect on some of the people, events, and clubs that were especially important to the class of 2020, including Pops and Jazz, the Black Box, the Blue Reign, and also a number of teachers and staff members.
Those people and memories helped make Hall an outstanding place for this class to grow, according to Zydanowicz.
“You’ve been given one of the best educations available and now have the foundation to excel in your next steps in life.”
“Know you’ve came from one of the very best, ” Zydanowicz added.
Following Zydanowicz, Hall senior Lily Perry addressed the Class of 2020 as the student speaker.
Perry took to acknowledging how the class was celebrating a far from typical graduation but amongst all of the uncertainties, this was a moment of celebration.
“We are able to briefly put aside the chaos of our world to reflect on all that we have done. We celebrate the wins and losses, the adversities and the perseverance, but most importantly, the growth we have all undergone through our time at Hall High School.”
She continued on by noting how the class has had the unique opportunity to “be something bigger than ourselves throughout this time and become thankful for the normalcy we had taken for granted.”
She finished her by sharing her appreciation for the “simplicities that made up a daily routine for four years” and encouraging her fellow classmates to make some history of their own.
Following Perry was Dr. Lara White, the faculty speaker for the evening.
White began her speech with passion as she shared her love for the graduating class. She reminisced on the difficult and confusing week leading to the final day of classes on Friday, March 13, 2020.
“Many of you had worked so hard for so long, putting in hours, skipping time with your friends and family for practices, rehearsals, studying, preparing for events or moments that simply seemed to vanish.”
White continued by sharing her personal story as a way to show the class “you can be more resilient and powerful than you thought, setbacks and disappointments can be your best teachers, that extraordinary people will show up in your life to help you achieve your goals and in the end, if you believe in your potential, no circumstances can keep you from what you were meant to be.
“I share my story today to let you know that you are not alone, but in fact, you are on the edge of a life less ordinary,” she added.
White concluded her speech by ensuring the Class of 2020 that throughout their struggles, they will never be alone.
“You are not alone. We are here by your side, and we will continue to coach you, cheer you on, and recognize your accomplishments.”
Principal Daniel Zittoun announced the presentation of diplomas. Students and families watched as the names and photographs of the graduates were displayed on the TV screen, cheering for their friends and family.
The ceremony concluded with the charge to the class, led by senior student association board member, Ella Novitsky. She shared some heartwarming memories and encouraging words with the class before officially concluding the ceremony.
As Novitzky finished speaking, the graduates exited their cars, turned their tassels, and tossed their caps in the air, celebrating a tumultuous, unusual, but ultimately gratifying senior year.
Names of graduates are listed below.
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Hall High School Class of 2020:
|Iure||Alves De Oliveira|
|Jimena||Diaz Del Castillo|
|Le Mai Khanh||Ho|