Communities remotely celebrate high school seniors

Cancelled graduations inspire a program to honor departing students.

Johnny Myers, of Williamstown High School, is among one of the seniors being sponsored in the Facebook groups (Robin Evangelista Myers/ Special to The Sun)

Since Gov. Phil Murphy’s order closing schools for the remainder of the academic year put graduations in limbo, several districts have figured out safe ways to celebrate high school seniors.

Among them is an effort by the community to create Facebook groups for either sponsoring or adopting a graduate.

Moderators of Williamstown’s Adopt a Senior group and teachers Gina Angelozzi-Gazo and Collette Mullen Meo have discussed with colleagues how to commemorate the teenagers.

“We saw other neighboring towns doing the Adopt a Senior thing and thought it was an amazing idea to bring the entire community together to show support to the class of 2020,” the women said via Facebook Messenger.

Some communities have used the word sponsor to clarify that the program would symbolically provide gifts of appreciation and celebration to seniors.

The two educators had noticed students being disappointed with activity after activity cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Missed milestones and events included proms, senior trips and talent shows.

The Facebook group was formed on May 8 and membership grew to 1,500 people, with an estimated 300 seniors sponsored.

Williamstown is not the only town involved in the effort. Parents in the Black Horse Pike Regional High School District created pages for Triton, Highland and Timber Creek. Clearview Regional High School District has a dedicated page for its seniors. Cherokee High School parents started a group for its seniors.

The aim of Williamstown’s group and others are for as many seniors to be sponsored as possible, with a fully adopted class being a goal.

“We have also gotten a lot of feedback from elementary and middle school teachers in the district who are enjoying seeing their former students all grown up and hearing about their future plans,” Angelozzi-Gazo and Meo noted.

Posts in the sponsor groups are written like Robin Evangelista Myers’, with an edit atop the post informing others her son, Johnny, was adopted out by someone (Image capture of a Facebook post).

How does the program work? A parent or guardian, with the teen’s permission, submits photos of a student accompanied by his or her characteristics, sport teams, interests and other hallmarks. The images also include descriptions of the student’s interests, future goals and plans and other traits the adult believes best describes each student.

The graduate then sends out a list to his or her sponsors. Some sponsors have ventured out to assemble gifts for seniors ahead of graduation, dropping them off at a student’s doorsteps.

“We have seen so many different gifts: snacks, drinks, cute graduation memorabilia, balloons or college apparel,” Angelozzi-Gazo and Meo said. “The gifts that have been given have been so creative and generous!”

No time frame is attached to the gifts, but it is suggested they be made by the date of graduation.

Depending on the group, qualifying students either attend the town’s high school, private or vocational technical high school, or are sponsored within the entirety of South Jersey.

Angelozzi-Gazo and Meo reiterated that the program has brought a silver lining for seniors who had otherwise missed out on milestones.

“The generosity we have seen through this page has been a bright spot in such uncertain times,” they said, “and it has been amazing to see all the pictures of the students receiving their gifts with big smiles on their faces.”