MOOSIC – The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may have thrown a curveball into traditional graduation plans for students at Holy Redeemer High School but it didn’t result in a strikeout.
On Wednesday, July 8, the Class of 2020 officially graduated at PNC Field, receiving diplomas after traveling down the first-base line and crossing a stage set up near home plate.
“I’m a softball player so I think it’s pretty cool that we get to graduate on a baseball field. I’m okay with the way things turned out,” graduate Meredythe Baird said. “We did miss out on a lot, that’s the nature of the (COVID-19) disease.”
A total of 114 students received diplomas during the 75-minute ceremony. In order to follow recommended guidelines for social distancing, graduates sat in several rows between the first-and-third base lines.
Graduate Joseph Delaney, who plans to go onto Mansfield University and study sports communication, was excited when he first learned that he would be graduating at PNC Field.
“I grew up at the baseball field learning things about sports, always wanting to become a commentator, and even doing little league color commentary at times. It’s definitely going full circle for me,” the 18-year-old student said.
Delaney admits he didn’t even know what graduation would look like at first during the height of the coronavirus.
“This year has been crazy. Honestly, it’s a little surreal that we’re finally able to graduate because it has been a rollercoaster of emotions,” he said.
While admitting that he was excited to get to see the Class of 2020 on the big screen at the stadium, Delaney said the most important thing was that his classmates got to come together one last time.
“We had surveys. They kept asking us ‘what do you really want,’ and the main thing I said is we wanted it to be in person, we wanted to be with everybody,” he explained.
Holy Redeemer principal Doreen Dougherty said administrators worked extremely hard to listen to what was important to both students and families.
“We did four separate Zoom conferences with all of our seniors invited to participate. We then had four separate Zoom conferences so all of our parents and guardians had the opportunity to weigh in as well. The input from those conferences helped us develop a survey to our senior class and invited them to finalize their thoughts as far as what they wanted Baccalaureate and Commencement to look like,” Dougherty said.
In addition to graduation being a special occasion for students, Dougherty added that it was also special for seven faculty members who retired at the end of the year after decades of combined service.
The valedictorian of the Holy Redeemer Class of 2020 is Brandon Gebenus of Wilkes-Barre. The salutatorian is Marissa Jason of Wilkes-Barre Township. Both addressed their fellow graduates during the graduation ceremony.
At the beginning of his speech, Gebenus discussed the coronavirus, encouraging his fellow graduates to remain strong, courageous and not be afraid.
“We all will have sad and challenging times to go through. The important thing is for us to stay strong and to keep faith in God’s love for us. We must allow God to guide our actions here on earth so we can make the world a better place and so we may somebody share eternal happiness with God in heaven,” he said.
As a graduating class born in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, Gebenus stressed the Class of 2020 is destined for greatness because of the values learned at Holy Redeemer.
“We are a graduating class that knows now more than ever how much the world needs unity. We are a class that knows the importance of involvement in social, church, and community services. We are a class that knows we each have the responsibility as citizens of the United States of America to exercise our right to vote. We are a class that knows we have the power to help end racial discrimination and lead the efforts to combat disease, poverty and climate change,” he added.
During her salutatorian address, Jason looked towards the future but also reflected on her high school experience.
“Holy Redeemer teaches far more than academics. In that building, you learn kindness, faith, altruism, and how to have a little fun in class. Holy Redeemer has provided us with the academic, social and spiritual tools we need to thrive,” she said.
At the conclusion of the graduation ceremony students got to participate in the traditional cap toss because administrators ordered each student a second cap that wouldn’t need to be retrieved so that no one intentionally broke social distancing guidelines during the pandemic.
“It’s not every day you get to have a graduation at a place like this,” graduate Jack Daoud of Wilkes-Barre said. “We’re just blessed!”
Daoud plans to study architectural engineering at Penn State in the fall. He said he was excited to graduate at PNC Field. While he is a Mets fan, not a Yankees fan, he said that didn’t dampen the excitement.
“I remember growing up, playing baseball, how much fun I had. It’s awesome it came full circle and I get to graduate here. It’s definitely a unique experience,” Daoud added.
Following their high school career, a total of 99 graduates will be attending a four-year college or university, including 35 who will be pursuing higher education at a Catholic college or university. Eight students plan to attend a two-year college, four will enter the work force and three will be entering military service.
The Holy Redeemer Class of 2020 received a total of 474 scholarships, earning more than $26 million.