Class of 2020 reunites for the first time since the pandemic

Sean Lee and Rani Ogden

For the first time since school shut in March 2020, 142 members of the Class of 2020 gathered together at Current in Chelsea Piers for a celebratory event hosted by the school last Saturday. “I got the chance to see people I haven’t seen in almost two years at this point,” Diana Shaari ‘20 said. “I didn’t have a sense of closure with a lot of my classmates unless I saw them on that last day of school in March, so it was a surreal experience to finally be able to see everyone.”

The Class of 2020 faced an abrupt end to their high school experience and missed out on some of the most important experiences of senior spring, such as Prom and graduation, former Dean of the Class of 2020 Stephanie Feigin said.

Because the Class of 2020 could not have Prom or graduation in person, the administration had promised to revisit the idea of hosting an additional celebratory event, Head of Upper Division Dr. Levenstein said.

“It was important to give them an opportunity to have some sort of event to celebrate their graduation and completing high school, but more than that, it was an opportunity for them to feel some closure and to get together as a class,” Dean of Students Michael Dalo said.

The administration had originally considered hosting an additional graduation for the alumni of the Class of 2020 in the graduation tent after the Class of 2021’s graduation, Levenstein said. In order to get insight on what alumni wanted, Levenstein surveyed the students through email in the Fall of 2020. The class displayed an overwhelming preference for a celebratory party over a “make-up” graduation, Levenstein said.

In a process similar to the planning required for the annual Prom celebration, Levenstein and Director of UD Student Activities Caroline Bartels then surveyed students in order to find a date for the event, and the majority of students chose Thanksgiving break. 

Gabby Kepnes ‘20 appreciated the administration’s efforts to survey the class, as it showed they cared about the event, she said. “I always voted for the earlier date because I was so eager to see everyone but the later dates always won,” she said.

Since the majority of the class did not want to attend a party with heavy COVID restrictions, the event only became possible with the development and distribution of the vaccine, Levenstein said. The attendees and staff were not required to wear masks because they were all vaccinated, but all guests were required to provide identification and proof of vaccination to be admitted, Amelia Feiner ‘20 said. “It seems pretty standard for what the policy in New York has been,” she said.

However, in June of 2021, Bartels and Levenstein worried that the event would not be able to take place if COVID protocols became stricter in November. “One of the things I had said to them straight up when they had chose Thanksgiving weekend was that we have no guarantee that things won’t be worse,” Bartels said.

In addition, the Omicron variant began to enter the news around the time of the event, Bartels said. Nonetheless, a majority of the class was still able to attend the event, Bartels said. 

While the Prom typically takes place at The Lighthouse in Pier 61, Saturday’s reunion took place at Current in Pier 59 to accommodate the smaller group of people, Bartels said.

Bartels got feedback from the students to decide on the theme of the event, including whether they wanted a formal event or a cocktail party or whether they wanted to have a formal dinner or a buffet, she said. The great thing was that it ran the gamut of clothing, some kids actually wore the dresses that they had chosen for Prom,” Bartels said. 

Bartels began to decorate the event space, Pier 51, by deciding on a color scheme. Then, she discussed the flower decor with the florist at Botany Bay to fit the color scheme. “I wanted really beautiful fall flowers, I wanted oranges, and gold, and rusts, and reds, I wanted autumn,” she said. She decided on champagne napkins, and blush pink tablecloth to fit the fall theme, and floating candles above the tables to create the feeling of “sparkly loveliness.” The venue with all of its decor was beautiful, Kepnes said.

Many students were able to attend the event over Thanksgiving break, as they returned from college campuses back to their homes but some students were conflicted between attending important football games or family vacations during the break, Bartels said. “I knew we weren’t going to have 100 percent because it’s a hard time.” 

However, the enthusiasm among the Class of 2020 was high preceding the event, Levenstein said. “There were a couple of students who really raised support for the event within the class,” Levenstein said. Some alumni, including Lexi Levy ‘20, texted group chats of 40 people encouraging their classmates to come to the event, Levenstein said.

The party began with appetizers, a buffet, mocktails, and a DJ, Feiner said. “The event started at 5 PM and went until 8, and it didn’t seem like there was a structure — they wanted us to be able to hang out, talk to each other, and reconnect,” she said.

Bartels thought of the event as a way for the class to catch up with each other. “I kept being like, ‘Kids, come into the party area!’ but they just wanted to be in the buffet area and talking to each other,” she said. 

Although Sangmin Lee ‘20 kept in touch with his close friends from his time at the school, he looked forward to the event as a way to catch up with old friends who he hadn’t spoken to in a while.

“It almost felt like nothing changed — each individual had their own special personality that was the same, and the night was composed of laughter and reminiscing the amazing memories we made at HM,” Kepnes said.

Besides reuniting with their classmates, several alumni were excited to see teachers they had personal connections with during their time in high school. Feiner took the opportunity to catch up with Theatre Teacher Benjamin Posner. “He told me about the shows that they’re doing this season at Horace Mann,” she said.

Shaari was especially touched by Director of Independent Study Avram Schlesinger’s decision to bring hats that are traditionally given to students who take the Independent Study course, she said. “We obviously never got that, and he was kind enough to have brought many of these hats for all of the students who did Independent Study,” she said.

Overall, Feiner was happy to be able to celebrate her time in high school. “We never got an opportunity to celebrate all of the hard work that we did at Horace Mann as a class together, and so attending provides some sort of closure,” she said. “A lot of people were very excited to receive the Horace Mann Prom 2020 socks—that was the highlight of the evening.”

The event was different from any event the school had hosted before, and many faculty did not know what to expect, School Registrar Chris Garrison said. “There were aspects that were similar to Prom, but at the same time the fact that it was a lot of catching up and seeing people we hadn’t seen in a while felt very much like an alumni reunion,” he said.

Feigin felt closure after the event, she said. “I gave a graduation speech to a single camera on a field as it was streamed to them. Those are such great moments seeing kids grow over the years, to have that kind of moment to let them know how proud I am — I didn’t have that,” Feigin said. 

Although Shaari appreciated the online graduation ceremony, she still felt as though that chapter of her life was not completely over, and she appreciated the administration’s efforts to host an event that helped her feel a sense of closure, she said. 

Luke Weber ‘20 was glad to see classmates and teachers that made his experience at the school feel like home. “I had grown up next to all of these people, so to see them once again was really special,” he said.

“It was awesome to see all the hugs, high fives, and the silliness as they reverted back to their sixteen year old selves,” Feigin said. “We get such a sense of joy from seeing them so happy.”

Math Teacher Benjamin Kafoglis saw many of his old students for the first time since the last day of school in March 2020. “Literally one of those classes I was in the classroom with them when we found out school was going to close, and to be able to see some of those kids again, and see that they’re okay and they see I’m okay, was really meaningful,” he said.

Levenstein was glad to see that despite the pandemic, the Class of 2020 is still thriving. “The last time I saw them in person some of them were disappointed because they hadn’t gotten in early, or some of them felt like they didn’t have a choice that they liked, and every kid I talked to on Saturday night was so happy about where they were,” she said.