GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — One year after a hail storm sent students and guests scattering, the 2013 Absegami High School graduation ceremony was cut short Friday by another storm only a few minutes into commencement exercises.

Names of award winners were announced and students had begun to be handed their diplomas when a thunderclap forced hundreds of people to seek shelter inside the school gymnasium. Once guests were inside, an announcement was made that the 457 graduating students — who gathered separately in the auditorium — were considered graduated and would have a chance to throw their mortarboards in the air. Everyone else, however, was asked to begin to leave.

Greater Egg Regional Superintendent Steven Ciccariello, who was at the Oakcrest High School graduation, said that because the board vice president “said the magic words” that the students had graduated, the ceremony is official and the students are considered officially graduated.

The Oakcrest ceremony never even got to that point, which is why that ceremony is tentatively rescheduled for Monday while Absegami’s is now considered complete.

Names were read out by officials in the auditorium, where the students had gathered, but the diplomas were not handed out one by one during the reading and parents and guests were not able to see it — unless they walked in through a side door by the stage, which not many people noticed.

“I think they should have looked at the weather and been more proactive,” said John Milligan, of Galloway Township, who was there to see his son Sean graduate.

Added his wife, Aimee, “Even on an iPhone you could see on the radar that it was a really bad storm.”

“The only thing I would have liked is if they gave the children their diploma in a pack, announced all the names and had them walk in (the gym) at least,” said Bess Varsalona, of Galloway Township, there for her son, Peter. “At least do something, some celebration.”

Azunee Oglesby, of Hammonton, said of her cousin Tyrique Beckett, “I never even got to see him graduate. It’s over. His brother and mother didn’t even get to see him get a diploma.”

Patrick Spina, of Galloway Township, said the district should have had some kind of backup plan for bad weather, such as holding the ceremony at Richard Stockton College up the street.

The texts of the speeches of the salutatorian and valedictorian both dealt with the subject of dealing with change and “random events,” which would have been apt for their suddenly foreshortened ceremony.

“This is the time to expand our horizons past the boundaries of Galloway Township,” salutatorian Lydia McAllister, of Galloway Township, wrote in her speech. “In order to do this, we will have to acquire one of the most important parts of humanity’s resources to take on the world — the ability to adapt to new surroundings. ... Even though this may prove to be a challenge, adapting to a new environment can be one of, if not the most, exciting and educational parts of our personal evolutions.”

Valedictorian Cara Zampino, of Galloway Township, wrote that “undoubtedly, we will all change. Not only that, the world in which we live will change. ... Don’t be afraid of change, as it is inevitable. Despite this ever-present uncertainty, we must take the reins and be active participants in the lives we are living. While many aspects of our world are temporary, we cannot simply allow random events to shape our identities. What we have to do is take what life gives us and run with it. When life gives us a hundred reasons to cry, we must show life that we have a thousand reasons to smile.”

Contact Steven Lemongello:

609-272-7275

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