Hart Class of 2020 recall their pandemic inspired graduation

Graduating from eighth grade is a time to celebrate, but plans for the James Hart School Class of 2020 were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A reunion tried to fill the gap.

James Hart administrators have planned eighth grade class reunions for nearly a decade, but this 2020 reunion May 24 had a different feel because their class year ended so abruptly.

The James Hart School Class of 2020 reunion found teachers and students reminiscing.
Teachers Krista Farrell, Delani Scheutzow, Ella Dedo and teacher Carey Sullivan enjoyed
catching up. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Four years later, about 100 Hart graduates who matriculated to Homewood-Flossmoor High School filled the cafeteria at Hart for a reunion of sorts, a time to reminisce about what was and what’s ahead.

“I remember the teachers, but I actually don’t remember much else. It’s kind of a blur,” said Sophia Krupa, a member of the Class of 2020.

“I remember being really confused and COVID happening and not knowing what was going on,” Alyssa Daley said. “We had a mock graduation online. It was really weird.”

Sydni Leverson remembers watching the 2020 ceremony. She missed not going to the eighth-grade dance, a tradition at Hart. 

Laura Ugo, assistant principal at Hart, said the administration got creative with student videos and digital pictures that made up the remote celebration online.

“I had a drive-by graduation,” Ramyah Scales remembers. The class missed out on their trip to Great America. She got there this year on a Homewood-Flossmoor High School trip.

Looking over the 2020 yearbook from James Hart School are
Donte O’Quin and Jacob Sline. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Aubrey Ooms recalled “how wild of an experience it was from being in school and then COVID and e-learning. What a whirlwind it was. It was crazy, but there were a lot of great experiences before that, and I really enjoyed eighth grade” and her participation in Scholastic Bowl. 

“It’s great to see them because they left in March,” without any send-off, said teacher Carey Sullivan who was impressed to hear students’ college plans. 

As they gathered in a group, a microphone was passed from student to student giving each a chance to announce their name and future plans. Teachers cheered them on — whether they will stay near and attend Prairie State College, or go far to the military, or colleges out of state, including Emory University in Atlanta and Howard University in Washington, D.C. 

Next steps will prepare them for professions in law, chemistry, business and finance, building trades, music and many more.

Graduates who said they planned to go into teaching got extra applause from their former teachers. 

Rachel Keenan plans to be an elementary school teacher. She said she’s had many wonderful teachers, but she recalled transferring into Willow School mid-year. She had no friends and felt lost in the beginning, “but all the teachers made me feel welcome and I want to give that back to other students who may feel that way,” she said.

District 153 Superintendent Scott McAlister, in addressing the group, said: “You’re going to get a proper graduation from high school,” but noted that this reunion “really means a lot to the people in this room because the reason we all do what we do, the reason we enter the field of education is to watch you get to this day. It means a ton that you all came back for us to see you.”

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