Southern Lehigh Class of 2021 Graduates Amidst Changes

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Through times of hardship and alternative environmental situations, the graduation of seniors has been a priority for Southern Lehigh and this class is ready for the commemoration events to take place.

Evelyn Blower

Summer is at our fingertips, and graduation for the seniors is, yet again, right around the corner. The Southern Lehigh administration has planned senior celebrations dedicated to celebrating the hardworking Class of 2021 that has persisted through over a year of disruptions amidst a pandemic. As the 62nd graduating class from the high school, these seniors are the second class to graduate amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying restrictions.

Last year’s Class of 2020 graduation consisted of an outdoor video celebration at Becky’s Drive In, a drive-in movie theatre located in Walnutport, a parade of decorated cars through the district campus, and the decorations of lawns with signs recognizing the seniors stuck inside. Students received their diplomas with their families at individual small group cap and gown ceremonies at the high school in the following weeks. 

This year, the district’s administration was able to put together a festival of parades, celebrations, and an in-person graduation ceremony for the entire class to receive their diplomas together.

One of last year’s socially distant celebrations was carried forward as a new tradition.  Scheduled for June 3rd, the family car parade will be routed through the district campuses where teachers will be lining the parade route to cheer on the graduates.

 The May 20th athletic and academic awards and scholarship ceremony, an annual event that was held online in 2020, was restored to its in-person setting.

Most notably, the students have an in-person (not in-car) event to attend in place of a Stabler Arena graduation; a ceremony at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown on June 4th. The large field as well as the massive campus allows seniors families to be present as the graduates receive their diplomas, while social distancing and mask-wearing will be expected to adhere to health and safety guidelines. 

“I’m not exactly happy about it, but I think it’s really the best we can do given the situation we’re in,” senior Amy Schwartz said. “I’m glad we can at least have in-person graduation. It hasn’t been an ideal year, so I’m glad I do get to walk and have my family see me graduate.”

During prior school years, graduation was held at the Stabler Area, a part of Lehigh University’s Athletic campus, which had ample room when there were no social distancing restrictions. This year, due in part to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, the event was held in a larger facility, meant to hold more than Stabler’s 6,000. Coca-Cola Park has a maximum capacity of 10,178, making it ideal for ensuring social distancing during celebrations.

“I really wanted to make sure we had a safe graduation for students and their families and with the entire senior class together,” high school principal Mrs. Beth Guarriello said. “Planning to try to make things run smoothly and also [creating] an enjoyable event for the families and students is a lot of fun for me.”

New events that celebrate this year’s seniors are a Senior Sunset Celebration and a Walking Parade through Southern Lehigh Middle School and the Joseph P. Liberati Intermediate School. 

The Sunset Celebration, taking place on June 3rd in the Southern Lehigh Stadium, provides an opportunity for the seniors to gather in person for one last social event before graduation. They are encouraged to bring their extra white mortar board caps to decorate, and there will be refreshments and other gifts for the graduating class. Yearbooks will also be distributed to the students. 

The Walking Parade, also held on June 3rd, honors the Class of 2021 as they walk through the intermediate and middle schools in display of the younger students and former teachers.

While some seniors wish things were different, others are looking on the bright side. After over a year of remote and hybrid learning, these events create the first opportunity for many seniors to see their classmates together in person since March of last year.

“I think we are making the most out of the current situation,” senior Ethan Yazdanyar said. “but I’m concerned about the limit on tickets [for graduation]; since I have a large family, I won’t be able to get enough.”

“Although it’d be nice to have a traditional graduation, the school went above and beyond our expectations and gave us more than they asked for,” said senior Morgan Pawlowski. “Getting to graduate at a huge [stadium] and getting to have my whole family there is something I’m most excited for.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has done much to disrupt the world as we knew it. However, because of the hard work of the administration and the grit of the seniors, graduation will be a safe, enjoyable affair that will congratulate this year’s graduating class for completing a tumultuous yet successful year.