MONROE, CT — Masuk High School seniors visited their school to pick up their caps and gowns Thursday morning. The bags of graduation attire also held gifts from seven community service organizations and three businesses.
“Oh this is so cute,” Amanda Cohen exclaimed, after taking out a Masuk Class of 2020 beverage tumbler with the names of everyone in her graduating class on it.
She also pulled out a white laundry bag emblazoned with her school’s red panther logo and “Masuk 2020.”
The Monroe Rotary Club led the Masuk Gift Bag project and was joined by the Monroe Lions Club, the Monroe Women’s Club, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, the Masuk Parent Teacher Club, Sippin-Winspur American Legion Post 176 & Auxiliary and Monroe Free Masons Washington Lodge No. 19.
“Everyone I contacted immediately said, ‘this is a great idea,’ and jumped on board,” said David Wolfe, a member of the Monroe Rotary Club who spearheaded the project. “Everybody gave a nice donation.”
Local businesses contributing to the effort were the Verizon Wireless Store, which gave each student a $50 gift certificate; The Digital Chameleon, which donated a banner hung over the entrance to the high school; and Monroe Dynamic Printing, which printed a card to the graduating class.
“We are honored to congratulate you, the Masuk High School Class of 2020,” the card says. “You have worked tirelessly the last four years with your academics, sports and many volunteer and club activities. You should be proud of all you accomplished thus far in your education!”
The service organizations acknowledged how the seniors overcame “unique challenges” in a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic made Monroe close its schools on March 12 in favor of distance learning.
In closing, the card says, “each of our organizations share a similar objective of doing volunteer work to make the community better. The Rotary motto of ‘Service Above Self’ is representative of our efforts. We hope that you, too, will to find time for service work as you continue in your own journey.”
‘Overwhelming in a very positive way’
Masuk Principal Jacob Greenwood stood in front of the school as seniors arrived to get their bags, sports trophies, belongings from their lockers and Post Prom T-shirts.
Of the Masuk Gift Bag Project, he said, “the first word that comes to mind is overwhelming, in a very positive way. It really has been a full community effort.”
Greenwood said parents and administrators tasked with planning the graduation, which is an enormous task, are appreciative of community volunteers pitching in.
A few feet away, a work crew moved the small stage where graduates will receive their diplomas and pose for photos on June 12. Greenwood said it was being moved a few feet because they noticed how a utility pole would have showed up in the background of photos in the original spot.
A table outside the school’s front entrance had piles of light blue Post Prom T-shirts for seniors to pick up, each with a small bag of candy. On the back, the shirts read, “In the waves of change we find our true direction.”
Karen Cardi, chair of the Post Prom Committee, said, while the annual event was canceled, committee members were excited to at least be able to get the seniors their T-shirts.
“Some kids will come into the Post Prom, sign in and immediately get their T-shirt, because they wanted to make sure they got one before they ran out,” Cardi said.
Making the best of it
Joe DePalma, a senior planning to go to the University of Connecticut in the fall, was among the students who came for their bags. He was appreciative of the efforts of administrators and community volunteers to make their graduation day as special as possible under the circumstances.
“Obviously, it’s not what everybody wanted,” DePalma said, “but the administrators are making the best of it and trying to give us a good experience. It’s a good thing that we’ll be able to get a picture. That’s something we’ll remember.”
Fellow senior David Canas plans to go to Colby College in Maine, where he will study economics.
“I think, despite the circumstances, everybody is trying to do their best for the seniors during these trying times,” he said.
Masuk’s graduation plan includes online speeches, decorations along Monroe Turnpike and groups of seniors taking turns walking on stage to receive their diplomas and pose for a photo, before seeing more decorations and teachers as they drive out.
Canas said it is the best solution within what the state rules allow. “I’m just grateful we can have anything at all,” he said.
Cohen, who plans to go to the University of New Haven next year, said, “it’s been a crazy year. Nobody could have told us we would have to graduate through this.”
“Personally, I’m appreciative of every effort,” she said of administrators, faculty, the Masuk PTC and community groups and volunteers trying to make this year special. “This has been a tough year, but we will get through it together. I think they’re doing the best with what they’ve been given. I think they made the best choice and at least I’ll be able to see my friends.”
Students signed up to be in groups of vehicle processions to get their diplomas online, enabling them to be with their friends.
‘We are proud of them’
Katie Bailey, president of the Rotary Club, said, “it is unfortunate that the students lost the chance to celebrate the end of their high school years with the typical traditions. We thought it would be nice for the community service groups to come together to acknowledge the graduates with a few gifts and show them that we are proud of them during these extraordinary times.”
Of participating in the Masuk Gift Bag Project, Adele Buck, co-president of the Monroe Women’s Club, said, “we pretty much jumped at the chance, because most of our members have kids who graduated from Masuk and we wanted them to have as normal a graduation as possible.”
Anthony Agosto, senior warden of Washington Lodge No. 19, was at Masuk Thursday, in place of master of the lodge, Francisco Delacruz, who recently recovered from Covid-19.
Agosto said the Lodge always awards a deserving Masuk graduate with a laptop computer.
“We didn’t have an opportunity to do it this year, so this is a small way to send them off,” he said of the Masuk Gift Bag Project. “Hopefully they’ll have better years ahead than this one.”
To see more photos from Thursday’s event, click on a picture to enlarge the image and scroll through: