Like thousands of students across the county, the class of 2020 at Cherry Hill West has had to deal with unexpected experiences and emotions over the past three months, as the COVID-19 pandemic either cancelled or altered their plans to celebrate the conclusion of their high-school careers.
The strength of three Lions — chosen from among the student body to address their fellow classmates — came not just from the sudden, adverse circumstances they had to deal with as their final year of high school came to a close, but also through personal circumstances as well.
Three of the school’s six speakers offered a hint of what was on their minds just prior to the recording of West’s virtual graduation ceremony during the week of June 15.
Maria Mousa, who was chosen to provide the salutatory speech, overcame obstacles related to her family’s emigration from Egypt and rising anti-Muslim sentiment following 9/11. Her high-school career included stints with the field hockey team and managing the lacrosse squad, but most importantly, acting as founder of the Middle East Club. She plans to attend Rowan University in the fall on a pre-med track.
“When I think of these last four years, I cannot help but smile,” she told the Sun. “I have made lifelong friendships and bonds with teachers and coaches that I will always cherish. I felt like I was truly part of a family, not only out on the field, but in the classroom as well. I would not be who I am today had I not attended West.
“Our world changed so much in a matter of a few months and the normal that we once knew may never return,” she added. “While some people are upset, I find it to be a critical time in our life as many of us have learned so much about ourselves.
On what she thinks her peers will learn from the chaos of current events, and what lessons she’ll apply during the next chapter, Mousa said, “We have become more passionate about certain topics, and I would say that this time has taught me to stay motivated, and work at what I believe is right.”
Madison Girgenti’s distinguished school career — which included her participation in the state’s DECA program for entrepreneurship, captaincy of the cheerleading team, installation as senior officer for West’s Chamber Singers and membership in the Principal’s Council — will end up blazing a trail for her sister, who is expected to attend West in September.
Girgenti reflected on how the times, and the pandemic, changed her outlook.
“Even though this is not how we would have chosen to end our senior year, it has really taught me to appreciate the little things,” she said. “After the initial shock of big events being cancelled or changed, what I realized I missed the most were the everyday interactions with teachers, classmates, and school staff.
“I think this has taught me to slow down and truly appreciate every moment.”
Sophie Cherfane was selected to give the Student Government Organization address. She plans to attend Rutgers-New Brunswick next year and major in biology.
“Being a part of several organizations during my time at Cherry Hill West has taught me innumerable lessons that I will cherish moving forward,” Cherfane said. “I have learned the importance of collaborating with many people who share a plethora of both similar and different ideas and incorporating those perspectives in each event planned by the Student Government Organization.
“Through peer leadership, I have learned the impact that sharing my experiences as a student holds, when guiding underclassmen,” she added. “I will apply all of the experiences and lessons I have learned from being a part of these organizations to positively impact my next chapter.”
Looking ahead, all three students urged the West class of 2021 not to be defined by their circumstances, to focus on the present, find the good in the simple things and find ways for personal growth through all their experiences.
Video of West’s graduation ceremonies, along with remarks from each graduation speaker,, including Calvin Aliferov, Gillian Sweeney and Jack Marble, can be accessed by visiting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHGKqjd7ly8 on the Cherry Hill Public Schools’ YouTube channel.