‘Full circle’: Haddonfield High graduates went from ‘bizarre’ to normalcy in four years

Class of 2022 will not be defined by the pandemic

After four tumultuous years, Haddonfield Memorial High School’s graduating class walked on stage to collect their diplomas during a warm and sunny June 21. 

This year marks the last commencement that will feature a traditional valedictorian and salutatorian; the school board decided in April to have a  collegiate-style honors system, with speakers chosen among students who earn summa cum laude status.

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Superintendent Chuck Klaus and Principal Tammy McHale acknowledged that the past four years hardly reflected a typical high-school experience.

“The Class of 2022 started high school in a pre-COVID world filled with the promises of joy and excitement of a high-school experience,” Klaus acknowledged. “They then were met with the most bizarre and the most unexpected shift as schools were shut down, followed by partial opening, masks … And finally, this class ended their career as they started school in a state of normalcy.

“This will be the only class that will have made that full circle of opening and closing with a normal state with the pandemic in the middle,” he added.

Despite COVID, graduates did not let the pandemic define them. This was evident in what the students chose to talk about in their speeches, which painted a broader picture of what their time in Haddonfield schools was like.

Senior class president and recipient of the J.M.T. Childrey Memorial Medal, Lily Cheatham, shared memories she and her classmates have created over the years, from celebrating a classmate’s back flip together in sixth grade to decorating the halls with a “Stranger Things” theme for spirit week, a reference to the Netflix show.

“I feel so grateful to be surrounded by people who demonstrate such great reliability and adaptability to change,” Cheatham noted. “In fact, I would argue that adaptability has to be the most prominent trait of this graduating class.” 

Salutatorian Jack O’Donnell used music references to thank teachers, friends and parents for their support.

“To our teachers – all of them, from preschool through high school – thank you not just for all of the knowledge you’ve taught us, but also for connecting with us, understanding us and believing in us,” he said.

“You deserve way more than just free guac for all that you’ve given us,” a reference to comedian Jimmy Fallon’s song, “Teacher’s Day.”

Valedictorian Cleo Hamilton shared her classmates’ suggestions on what she should speak about. Some ideas were funny, like reciting the entirety of the “High School Musical” graduation speech, or simply yelling “Go 2022!” and walking off stage. 

Others were more contemplative, such as reflecting on how COVID affected the  class. By reviewing all these suggestions in her speech, Hamilton was able to talk about her class’ personality and the different experiences they’ve shared over the years.

“I learned from all my classmate’s suggestions that the class of 2022 is daring, lighthearted, hopeful, generous, goofy, thoughtful, supportive, collaborative and grateful,” Hamilton said. “Having received all these ideas demonstrates that no project or challenge is created alone. 

“We need to assemble our all-star team and work together.”

The collaborative nature of the class was referenced later by McHale, who praised the graduates’ initiation and highlighted their projects, including an assembly with Afghan refugees, a blood drive and an auditorium construction project.

“Our students see a need and make the change, and that defines the class of 2022,” she explained. “This class is unique, with a lot of individual personalities,  but together, they are a force of nature, change agents ready to leave a lasting impression and impact on our community.”

 

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