The First-Ever Country-Wide Virtual Commencement Held for the Class of 2020

Lawrence, NY: Justin Vandewater, a senior at Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst, New York, has something in common with thousands of other teenagers across New York State and New York City: his senior year of high school has been completely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exterior of Lawrence High School. Cedarhurst, NY. Photo by: Devin Hance

“We are missing out on our prom and graduation, among many other things, which really sucks,” says Vandewater.

With live ceremonies, athletics and proms canceled, not only in New York but across the country, it sparked the opportunity for virtual events to honor the classes of 2020.  

Vandewater, his classmates and college students all over the U.S., tuned in to check out clips and speeches from virtual commencements from CNN’s Class of 2020: In This Together and LeBron James’ “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020, both held on Saturday May 16th.

2020 graduates across the U.S. heard speeches and words of encouragement from former president Barack Obama, NBA All-Star Lebron James, Comedian Keegan-Michael Key and dozens of others.

Vandewater is the student government association (SGA) President of Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst, NY. He helps coordinate many of the events and functions in his local high school and the virtual commencements gave him and others hope for a brighter future.

Vandewater can list off more than just his graduation that him and his class of roughly two-hundred and fifteen students are missing out on. College tours, senior trips and athletics add on to the list of heartbreak.

For Vandewater, his love for lacrosse, a sport he spent over 7 years of his life playing, has sadly come to an abrupt end.

Vandewater having a toss with his lacrosse stick during quarantine. Photo by: Devin Hance

“Our season was slated to start a week after the school closure began. Our first game was supposed to be the last week of March. When we were just hoping the season would be shortened versus completely cancelled,” he explains.

The Lawrence boy’s lacrosse team have eight seniors that no longer will be able to participate in sports awards or a senior banquet.

Many seniors rely on film from their final season to be used to send to colleges in hopes to continue playing on a collegiate level.

“It helps with the recruitment process,” Vandewater explains.

“I’ll try out for Hofstra’s lacrosse team and hopefully I’ll make it but missing out on an entire season is a big loss.”

Although much has been put on pause, Vandewater is still hard at work as his school’s SGA president.

“Right now, the main focus is still graduation. I’ve been trying to push the idea for a field graduation. We want a traditional graduation and we have thought about virtually streaming it, but the school board hasn’t made a decision on approving that yet,” Vandewater says.

He plans to use the remainder of May to push for some sort of ceremony that will honor the seniors.

Although graduation may be out of his control, Vandewater is attempting to work on things that are within his control, like making sure every senior can walk away with a yearbook in hand by the official end to the school year.

“I’m trying to make everyone else feel better about all this, and one thing we are trying to do is fundraise about $22,500 to ensure every senior has a yearbook.”

Having a yearbook is a good way to look back on the good memories that were not taken away.

As far as Vadewater’s future plans, he hopes to be a freshman at Hofstra University by the Fall of 2020.

“I have been accepted into the business program, but I’d like to potentially switch into the engineering program at some point.”

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