FHS Seniors Begin Modified Graduation Ceremony

Queena Bergen and Kim Hill (left to right in “Franklin Warriors” t-shirts) put together a special Virtual Reality presentation for the FHS Class of 2020.

Franklin High School seniors have begun the first phase of their graduation observance, which could be called “giving and taking.”

Students driving up to the front of the school, in the bus drop-off lane, stop at one station to give back any school property they may have, and then proceed to another station to receive special gifts, including one that is unique to them.

Included in the students’ “goodie bag” is a Virtual Reality headset, which comes pre-loaded with a special 3-D “virtual graduation” celebration.

The video, conceived and created by FHS alumnae Queena Bergen and Kim Hill, includes speeches by class Valedictorian, Salutatorian, Class President and principal Frank Chmiel.

It also includes a spoken-word piece written and performed by Bergen, as well as comments from a number of members of the Class of 2020.

“Now these kids are going to experience someone thing that no other high school kid in New Jersey has ever experienced before,” Bergen said.

The virtual graduation was completed before Gov. Murphy allowed in-person graduation ceremonies, Chmiel said.

Also included in the goodie bag are a special Class of 2020 t-shirt and a Class of 2020 key chain.

Bergen said she came up with the idea for the VR presentation because, with everything happening around the COVID-19 pandemic, she wanted to do something to give back to her alma mater.

Watch a video about the first phase of graduation and the seniors’ “goodie bag:”


“The point of creating this was trying to understand what are we going to do in the future, how are we going to get past this,” she said. “I’m hoping this is an introduction to these kids to explore technology, explore science and spark those kinds of ideas.”

“The spoken word piece was based on what the kids were telling me they felt about the school, and the last piece was the part that I really dedicated to the students, letting them know that there’s an ability to persevere, you just have to redefine who you are, try to understand that things happen in your life that you might not have control over, and it’s these times in your life that you have to sit down, hunker down and get back to basics,” Bergen said.

The students who appear in the video were asked a variety of questions, Bergen said.

“What would you do if you knew today was your last day of school,” she said. “A lot of the students didn’t know that that would be the last day they were there. What would you say to your parents as you’re walking across that stage, what would they say to the administration … and what would they say to themselves in 5 years.”

The video was conceived by Bergen, with Hill acting as the editor.

Chmiel said all the school’s administrators were “excited” by Bergen’s idea.

“Franklin High School is the only high school in the state of New Jersey that has planned a virtual graduation ceremony,” he said.

Chmiel said that in-person graduation ceremonies will take place over three days in July. Gov. Phil Murphy recently allowed the in-person graduations, with certain restrictions.

Chmiel said 90 students will graduate in each session, and each student will be able to bring four guests.

Rather than facing the goalpost as in other years, the graduates will face the home bleachers, which is where their guests will be seated, Chmiel said.

“This will be more intimate than any of the graduations in my memory, because all of the graduate seats will face the bleachers,” he said. “We’re able to separate the chairs so they’re at least six feet apart. They will be able to look at their children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, brothers and sisters … they will be able to see the graduate go across” to get their diplomas.

The graduation sessions will be held at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on each of the three days, Chmiel said.

The district also bought 2-foot by 3-foot signs, each of which will have a graduate’s portrait on it, as well as a congratulatory message. Chmiel said the more than 520 signs will line the way from the school to the graduation site in Warrior Stadium.

Students will be able to return and take their signs after the last graduation ceremony, he said.

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