By ERIN ROLL
The Year of the staircase is finally over.
Montclair High School’s 496-member Class of 2019 bade their high school years farewell in a festive ceremony at the school amphitheater on Wednesday, June 26.
It was the long-awaited end to a tumultuous school year for students and staff alike – and more than one of the speeches hinted to the obstacles and disruptions caused by the staircase collapse.
The collapse of a staircase and the condemning of three others at the high school in September disrupted the entire year, requiring classes to be moved, and reconstruction of the stairwells to be scheduled and rescheduled. And at one point the graduation ceremony was to be held off campus.
Mark Testa, the student coalition president, told the class those obstacles simply created another kind of memories for the class of 2019.
“The stairs, the portable classrooms, and the other instances are what made this year memorable,” Testa said.
Four years ago, said Principal Anthony Grosso, the graduates walked into Montclair High School on the first day of their freshman year. This year, he said, they had experienced many unexpected changes.
He reminded the graduates that the ceremony, while it was the last day of high school, was not the end of things. “And this is not the end, but only the beginning of what you were meant to do, and who you were meant to be.”
The school broke with tradition by having one of the graduates be the special guest speaker. Kimoni DePass, who will be attending New York University and who was recently designated as an Essex County Unsung Hero, delivered the address.
DePass recounted how her parents had immigrated to the United States, making her a first-generation American. Attending Montclair High School, she said, was a lesson in privilege, that included those who are privileged and those who are not.
Those high school years also taught about the relationships with faculty mentors and with peers, and a shared vision among students of what the world can be.
She quoted Michelle Obama. “When they go low,” to which the audience answered, “We go high.”
She recalled moments such as the student walkout for March for Our Lives, the push for more equity in the school’s yearbook production, and the students’ appeal to have the school go ahead with the May 20 production schedule.
“We will always have the concerts at the Wellmont, trips to the movies, endless study sessions at Montclair’s coffee shops, athletic events, and of course, a year with no stairs,” she said.
It was initially in doubt whether the ceremony would take place in the amphitheater – long the traditional site for the school’s graduation ceremonies – since the school property would have to be closed off to allow for asbestos remediation.
However, the senior class voted to have the ceremony in the amphitheater, in a survey sent out to parents and students asking them about graduation preferences.
Bleachers were set up on Park Street to allow additional seating. Twenty minutes before the ceremony, security guards had to turn large groups of people away from the amphitheater because even standing-room only was no longer available.
Attendee Tom Guggino felt that the school oversold the ceremony. A better move would have been to hold the ceremony in the football field, he said.
But other families present had fond things to say about the ceremony.
Kelli and Tom DeFlora were at the ceremony for their son Sean. They enjoyed the speeches and the choir’s performance before the awarding of diplomas.
“Seating’s always an issue,” Kelli DeFlora said.
“But it’s a nice tradition,” Tom DeFlora said.
After the ceremony, students were taken on a parade around town in a convoy of school buses, before departing for the party site for Project Graduation.
Last year’s Project Graduation festivities took place at Bowlmor in White Plains, NY.
Montclair High School was the last of the town’s four high schools to have its graduation ceremony; Montclair Kimberley Academy, Lacordaire Academy and Immaculate Conception High School all held theirs in early June.