By MADDY VITALE
The Class of 2020 will likely remember much about their final months as seniors. They, too, will be remembered for their resilience, perseverance and ability to handle a change in life that was like no other for many in this lifetime.
On Tuesday night, the Ocean City Ministerium hosted a Baccalaureate Ceremony for the Ocean City High School Class of 2020, which featured pastors, Mayor Jay Gillian and performers, including a trio from OCHS.
Youth Pastor at the Ocean City Tabernacle Jonathan Gonzalez gave a sermon about triumph, how he faced many obstacles — a near-fatal car crash when he was just 17 taught him that he had a purpose. He said he was meant to help others.
All people have a purpose, he emphasized. “There are two great moments. They are the moment you are born and the moment you find out why,” Gonzalez told the crowd. “Do you understand your purpose?”
Gonzalez spoke of the trying times for young people amid the pandemic, protests and racial discord.
“There is a reason for all of the pain that comes in our lives,” he noted. “The virus. The social unrest. All of the tension in the country.”
People find strength and how they manage trials is what shows true character and evokes change, he said.
The mayor commended the graduating class for a tough and unprecedented end to a year that is typically filled with end-of-the-year celebrations.
“You make us proud,” said Gillian, an OCHS graduate himself. “Seniors, who would have known that three months ago you would never return (to the classroom)?”
Gillian spoke of the strength of the community and pointed out that the one lesson COVID-19 showed all of the country is nothing is guaranteed in life.
“You can’t control everything,” he said.
The mayor gave some advice: “Listen to your parents. Self-responsibility and love this town of Ocean City.”
Throughout the hour-long program, graduates were honored and asked to stand and be recognized. Performances lifted the crowd.
Chloe Mack and sisters Lexi and Gabby Hart, all OCHS students, performed “Good Grace” and “The Blessing,” high school senior Micah Waid read scripture and Ted Dawkins, Lee Martin, Elena Castillo and Sarah Putiri performed “You Raise Me Up.”
The outdoor ceremony on the Tabernacle grounds is held yearly. This year, however, with COVID-19 restrictions in place, families and friends sat with their soon-to-be graduates, maintained social distancing and for those who couldn’t, they donned masks.
Ocean City Tabernacle Pastor and CEO Jay Reimer looked around the grounds at all of the attendees and said, “I am so happy to see people come out to celebrate.”
He said, despite the difficult time, that the ministerium agreed that the ceremony must take place in some way.
“The Ocean City community was very supportive of this,” Reimer added.
Grace Burke, 18, of Ocean City, a senior, sat in the audience with her parents Jim and Shiho Burke and sister, Mary.
Grace, who will be attending the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the fall and will be on the track team, smiled as she said what the program meant to her.
“I think it was wonderful. I think it is really nice that they put together this event, and it was fun to watch my friends perform,” she said.
Families and Class of 2020 seniors were left with a message from the final speaker of the program, Pastor Marcia Stanford of the Macedonia United Methodist Church.
She spoke of the fortitude of the Class of 2020 to not only survive the difficult time but thrive. They are the future, she said.
“You have the heart to be tolerant of all — kind to everyone. Rise up,” Stanford said. “Love is kindness and, in each face, see love.”
For those who do not attend in person, a live stream video of the baccalaureate service will be available at https://www.octabernacle.org/stream.