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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jun 07, 2020

Bagpiper Surprise for CBA Graduate

By Joanne Colella

Pat and her son Rodney Wotton

The COVID-19 quarantine may have canceled many traditional events this season such as high school graduations, but for one local mom, it was not going to get in the way of creating a special celebration for her deserving son.

Pat Wotton, of Fair Haven, is the proud mother of Rodney, a graduating senior at Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft. Each year, CBA has a tradition of shepherding the graduating class out of the school to the accompaniment of bagpipers. With schools locked down for the remainder of the semester, the class of 2020 would not have that opportunity.

Ever resourceful, Wotton found a bagpiper of her own, Derek Midgley, and enlisted his help in putting together a surprise for Rodney. Born and raised in New Jersey, Midgley is a professional bagpiper who learned his skills while living for four years in Glasgow, Scotland, and now teaches and plays at events throughout the tristate area. Wotton made arrangements for him to appear at her house, out in the front yard, on the afternoon of May 5. She tipped off a few family members and close friends who she knew would want to share in the surprise.

Derek Midgley

Knowing that the bagpiper was scheduled to begin playing at a set time, Wotton found herself stalling Rodney from leaving the house too soon for plans he had made. At the appointed hour, just as he was heading down the stairs, the music began and he caught a glimpse out the window. Although Rodney’s initial reaction was to ask his mom what the heck she had done, he grinned with embarrassment as he took in what was happening and saw the group of well-wishers, all wearing masks and standing safe distances apart, cheering while holding banners and balloons. As the bagpiper played, his beaming mother hugged him tightly and laughed.

The CBA tradition began under the leadership of school president Brother Frank Byrne, a bagpiper himself whose students, during the 2011-12 school year, formed the CBA Pipes & Drums Band. In addition to performing for parades, receptions and other events, the band lines up on the last day of school and plays for the seniors who file out between them as they exit the building for the last time as CBA students. The fun ceremony has always been a delight for the teachers, families and fellow students who gather to cheer on the graduating class.

The Wottons’ circle of family and friends were equally delighted as they enjoyed the opportunity to honor Rodney, who will be going on to Stevens Institute of Technology next year to study computer science, following in the academic footsteps of his father for whom he was named. Rodney Wotton, Sr. was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 – just a week before his son’s birth, also leaving behind his wife and their little girl, Dorothea, who now attends Tufts University.

For Pat Wotton – and undoubtedly for other area families whose lives were impacted by the events of Sept. 11 – having a special closure to the school year was expected as a fitting tribute to the class of 2020 graduates, the last generation of high school students who were born in 2001. And this time, it was the jubilant music of celebration, not mournful tunes, that the bagpiper played for them.