As Newark’s high school seniors anxiously await details about their graduations next month, Gov. Phil Murphy delivered them some welcome news on Wednesday: Celebrations involving cars are now allowed.
Unlike other states, where some school districts have planned car parades and drive-though graduation events to celebrate the Class of 2020, New Jersey officials have said only virtual ceremonies would comply with the state’s stay-home rules during the coronavirus pandemic.
But on Wednesday, Murphy began to ease a few of the emergency restrictions, citing a decline in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Now, people may gather in cars for graduation events as long as they remain in their vehicles and keep the windows and doors closed, Murphy said.
The rule change cheered Devon Corry, a Newark 12th grader who has proposed drive-through graduations where processions of seniors would roll up to schools and accept their diplomas.
“I’m totally excited,” Corry said Wednesday after Murphy’s announcement. “I view this as an opportunity to put my idea back out there.”
He will have a chance to do that on Thursday, when he and other student representatives, senior class advisors, and principals are scheduled to meet virtually with Superintendent Roger León to discuss graduation options, Corry said. León has said that a ceremony for the Class of 2020 will happen June 18, but he has not said what the festivities will involve.
If Newark does decide to incorporate vehicles into schools’ graduation events, the district will have to find a way to include families without cars. (About 23% of Newark households do not own cars, according to census data.) One option might be to include a virtual component that students could experience from home. The state education department has suggested airing messages on local TV stations, streaming speeches online, or even hosting digital ceremonies on gaming platforms.
Corry has already created an online petition that describes in detail how drive-though celebrations could work. The petition states that, after 12 years of hard work, the Class of 2020 deserves some sort of “recognition that is not virtual.”
“Our senior trips, prom, dinner, etc., have all been canceled due to the pandemic,” reads the petition, which has garnered nearly 100 signatures. “The one thing that we can try to make possible would be our senior graduation.”
Corry said he plans to pitch his idea during Thursday’s call with the superintendent.
“I feel like I can be that person to use my voice and make it happen,” he said. “I have ammunition: I have my petition, I have a plan that’s doable.”