TINTON FALLS – It was a different kind of NJROTC high school experience, as the 66 graduates of MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, turned in their uniforms and covers Saturday at White Dove Cleaners, S. Gilbert St.
That was the first of three Saturdays the graduates had to turn back the uniforms, including trousers, shirts, covers, and other accoutrements of the uniforms they have worn during their four years at MAST.
Traditionally, following the final promotion ceremonies for the NJROTC units, seniors bring their complete uniforms back to their school on Sandy Hook, where they are checked for completeness and any damages, then catalogued and stowed by the Naval Science staff to be picked up by White Dove Cleaners, cleaned, sorted, bagged, and delivered back to the school in time for the next school year.
This year, due to the Covid virus regulations, to ensure safety as well as to make it more convenient for the students, the three naval science instructors arranged to spend three hours for three consecutive Saturdays at the White Dove Cleaners. There, beneath a canopy in the parking lot behind the cleaners, with computer, check lists and masks and gloves, the instructors could inspect and check off each uniform before handing them all over to the cleaners and their own strict system of ensuring no spread of any possible virus.
Joseph Giarmita, who is owner with his father, Philip Giarmita, Jr. of White Dove Cleaners, has had the contract with MAST for more than 12 years and the company was ready to meet and exceed this year’s additional changes. “We set up a container outside for the instructors,” Giarmita said, “and gave them instruction on how to keep the container sealed and airtight other than when depositing the clothing. We then leave the containers closed and separate from everything else for at least 24 hours before we open them. Keeping them airtight even while they are putting in the uniforms ensures no air borne contaminants can be present. As we do in handling all the clothes from all our customers, our employees are masked and gloved and are distanced from each other in the processing plant itself.”
For the students, the most emotional part of the transfer was seeing the faculty members in person for the first time in two months, although they have been with them through on screen education daily.
Alissa Amchentseva said graduating from MAST is one of many milestones in her life, and while the virtual education was different from classroom work, she actually preferred taking her AP, or Advanced Placement, tests online rather than in the classroom. While she far preferred classroom work to online education, she got used to it. Looking forward to further education in the field of computer science, Alissa said missing graduation ceremonies was not terribly traumatic for her, since she feels “the more important part of it is everything I learned, not the ceremony itself.
Shawn Burke of Colts Neck readily conceded leaving MAST without the formal graduation ceremonies is sad and different, he will never forget the great education he received there and the friends he met. Heading to the University of Pittsburgh to study pre-medicine, Shawn said it’s a good feeling to know he has completed his high school years at MAST and he’s looking forward to college. Shawn is currently an EMT with the Colts Neck squad and would like to be a physician majoring in surgery or orthopedics. He will remember MAST as the best years of his life, the experiences he has learned because of his schooling there, and all the fun he has had with other MASTies.
Tyler Polon of Sea Bright leaves July 6 for the United States Coast Guard Academy, one of the two federal service academies which offered him scholarships. He selected the Coast Guard over the United States Naval Academy, he said, because it appears to be the branch of service that would enable him to be the most compassionate. The son of a soldier, Tyler said he always knew he wanted to go in the military and knew he wanted one dealing with the sea. Attending MAST with its emphasis on marine science and technology helped in his decision to choose the Coast Guard. While he said he does not miss the graduation ceremony itself, he misses the opportunity of seeing all his fellow graduates, other classmates and the faculty. But he will always remember the opportunity he had of “meeting so many people who are so compassionate and so hard working,” both among faculty and students. Addressing how the Corona virus has impacted his senior year in high school, he said it made things more difficult, but added “we’ll all be stronger for it.”
MAST is one of the five career academies in the Monmouth County Vocational School District. The district accepts students for the four-year high school without discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, orientation, religion, disability or socioeconomic status. Students are required to be active members of the Navy Junior ROTC program during their high school years, which focuses on citizenship development and leadership. There is no requirement for military service after graduation.
Alyssa Amchentseva of Eatontown after handing in her uniforms (shown with empty bags)
Eagle Scout Nicholas Noe of Brielle checks to make sure he's turned in everything.
Colts Neck EMT Shaun Burke. Photo courtesy of Candice Burke.
Tyler Polon of Sea Bright goes through his uniforms one more time as he prepares to hand them in.