COVID Strong: Celebrating the Class of 2020
This year’s high school seniors missed out on their last spring sports season, their prom, precious time with friends, and much more. Educators and loved ones everywhere are stepping up to make sure that these young people, who finished their high school studies under extraordinary circumstances, don’t miss out on graduation celebrations – even if those celebrations look different than in years past.
Central High School, in Corinth, is holding a drive-through graduation at 2 p.m. on June 13.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into this and tried to develop a plan that would, one, try to restore as much of the tradition of graduation as we could, and two, provide a memorable experience for the kids,” said Principal Brett Hoogterp. “We have 50 graduates. Each is allotted two cars to go through. When they come to the school we will place them in alphabetical order.”
The parking lot will be chalked off for social distancing. Cars will approach the stage in twos. The graduate will leave the vehicle, and Hoogterp will read out scholarships and accolades. Then the graduate will cross the stage, pick up their diploma and pause for livestreaming and a professional photograph before getting back into their vehicle and heading to the back of the line. That will be followed by a procession from the high school down to the elementary school. Those unable to attend graduation should check https://rsu64schools.org/ for details about the livestream.
“We’re very proud of our seniors,” Hoogterp said. “It’s unfortunate they had to go through this particular scenario, but they now have a story that they can tell for the rest of their lives!”
Dexter Regional High School Principal Stephen Bell told parents in a letter on May 18 that, “A school shutdown and transition to online/remote learning is an unprecedented event. While some decisions have come easily, one of the most challenging things we are facing is the planning of a graduation event for the Class of 2020 that is within all the current guidelines and restrictions. We have two goals in mind. The first is to provide a meaningful and memorable graduation ceremony, while the second goal is to keep everyone safe.”
Graduation will be a drive-in event held on the DRHS football field at 1 p.m. on June 7 (rain dates are June 13 or 14). The stage will be set up in the end zone by the scoreboard, Bell said.
Students will gather in two socially distanced meetings in the school gymnasium on June 4 to receive Grad Bags including their cap and gown, medical records, Senior Assembly awards, a face mask in school colors to wear to graduation, ceremony programs and other event details. Students receive two car passes. The field pass is for the car containing the graduate – families are encouraged to decorate this vehicle. A second pass allows additional guests to park on the track around the football snack shack. Seniors are also getting graduate lawn signs that will be used during the ceremony and can then be displayed at home.
Graduation will include the traditional speaking parts, as well as a trip to the stage for each graduate to receive their diploma and other awards, including scholarships and items normally handed out during senior assembly. There will be a senior slide show on two large screens at either side of the stage. Following graduation, there will be a Class of 2020 Graduation Parade through town led by local fire and law enforcement vehicles. And the Class of 2020 is invited to attend the 2021 Prom next spring, since their own had to be cancelled.
“Someone once said ‘Plan for tomorrow, but enjoy today, the here and now.’The class of 2020 is living that reality,” Bell said. “Their senior year was cruising along at a normal pace when out of nowhere a pandemic hits and leads to a complete shutdown of normal schooling. No prom, no spring sports, no spring concerts, no musical, etcetera. Teaching and learning has continued, but only in a remote or online experience. There is a historical significance to what is taking place and the Class of 2020 is part of that story.
“The good news is that this shutdown has not stopped the planning for tomorrow,” he continued. “All of the graduates in the Class of 2020 have a post-secondary plan and have a future beyond the hallways of Dexter Regional High School (college, military or work). As for the here and now, on June 7th at 1 p.m. on the DRHS football field, we will collectively stop and celebrate with friends and family as the Class of 2020 graduates in a first-ever Drive In Graduation Event, followed by a Graduate Parade.
“Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2020,” Bell concluded. “Look for the positives that have taken place over the last few months. History always judges favorably on generations that persevere. Something tells me that we will be talking about the year and the Class of 2020 for a long time.”
Foxcroft Academy, in Dover-Foxcroft, “is trying to have a regular graduation, and I think in these current times, that’s special,” said Head of School, Arnold Shorey. The date has been pushed back to June 27. “We hope the rules will allow an outdoor graduation. If not, we will have a drive-up graduation in the Piscataquis County Ice Arena parking lot.”
Either way, graduation will feature all the usual speakers and graduates will pick up diplomas from a table on the stage. Graduates get a gift each year – this year seniors will receive masks with the FA Pony mascot on them.
“We will have protocols that will be in place,” said Shorey. These include graduates and family members remaining in vehicles for much of the time (if a drive-thru graduation is required), masks worn any time someone is outside, and maintaining six feet of physical distance.
“If we do a drive-up graduation, there will be a parade through town with graduates and their families lined up in alphabetical order. I know a lot of people are empathetic with what the seniors have gone through and would love to show their appreciation and support.”
FA will coordinate with local law enforcement as to how the parade can be safely conducted, he said.
The Class of 2020 has “shown amazing resiliency through this and all of the life changes,” said Shorey. “They have adapted quite well to the remote learning and I haven’t heard complaints. I’ve just observed them to quickly adapt and still being very productive. It makes me have hope for the future, that we have future leaders who are able to do this.”
Greenville High School traditionally has some of the smallest graduating classes in the region, and thus some of the most personalized graduation ceremonies.
“The Greenville High School Class of 2020 has 24 seniors scheduled to graduate on the campus grounds on the original date, Sunday, June 7, at 1 p.m.,” said 2020 Class Advisor, Melanie Breton. “This will be the first ceremony of its kind at GHS! Baccalaureate services will be held the Sunday prior, May 31, in the Holy Family Catholic Church parking lot. Due to the regulations concerning group events, both ceremonies are by invitation only, and using modified drive-up models.” Graduation will be broadcast on WZLO 103.1 for those unable to attend in person.
Additionally, every day since May 1, the Greenville Sports Boosters and Greenville Consolidated School have been honoring one senior per day on their Facebook pages. “The spotlight includes photos and acknowledges academic, athletic and community achievements, as well as future endeavors,” said Breton. “Administration, staff, parents and school groups have other surprises planned through graduation and into the summer when the students can get together as a class at least one more time.” A summer prom/dance and barbeque are being discussed, she said.
“The Class of 2020 is truly a special class - full of high achievers, leaders, and community minded individuals,” said Lee Pearsall, principal of Greenville Consolidated School. “There is a positive synergy within this class - they seem to bring out the best in each other - in the classroom, on athletic fields and courts, and in the hallways and lunchroom. In addition to academics and athletics, this class is highly involved in volunteer efforts that have impacted our local community, as well as the world. Through Key Club, they have helped to provide holiday meals and gifts for our locals and fully funded two wells for Eswatini, formerly Swaziland. Compared to other schools, the Class of 2020 may be small in number; however, they have made a huge impact on our school, local community, and the world. We wish them all the best as they navigate their way through life.”
Nokomis Regional High, in Newport, plans to hold both Class Night and graduation on their original dates, June 11 and 12. “Yes, this year’s ceremonies will look a bit different but it will still be as special as ever and certainly one of a kind,” Principal Mary Nadeau told graduates and their families in a letter issued on May 13. The principal said she had spent recent weeks conferring with other school’s administrators, as well as Nokomis class advisers, class officers and the superintendent, to gather ideas.
“While a drive-in type ceremony would allow for a larger group in cars, it would mean people sitting in their cars for several hours with a limited view,” Nadeau wrote. Instead, Nokomis will use a walkthrough format with students being allowed four family members to accompany them into the school to receive their diploma and to pose for a professional photograph. Nokomis Broadcasting will livestream the event for others to watch at home, or a later recorded version.
“In addition to this diploma presentation ceremony, Class Night will be replicated virtually with all of the typical awards and scholarships announced,” wrote Nadeau. “The other normal components of our graduation ceremony will be pre-recorded and aired immediately after the presentation of diplomas. The entire package of ceremonies for graduation week will be edited and shared online for any and all to view.”
Nadeau said that graduation is her favorite day of the year, even this year.
“What I would say about this group of seniors is that they’ve been amazing and have down great leadership. We needed them to step up when we made our move into the new building and they did! Since we’ve moved to remote learning, they have continued to show their perseverance and resilience by engaging with their teachers and completing their graduation requirements. The past few months have been challenging but you couldn’t ask for a better group of students to battle through this time with…true Warriors!”
Penquis Valley High School, in Milo, plans a “two-phase” graduation this year. Graduation is scheduled for Saturday, June 13 (rain date June 14). One week prior to that, phase one rolls out with Graduation in a Box. PVHS Principal Mike Rollins plans to deliver festively giftwrapped boxes containing “all things graduation” to each senior. Boxes will contain things such as caps and gowns, honor cards, NHS sashes that students may keep, yearbooks, senior “to-do” activities, ceremony instructions, a diploma prop, commencement programs, social distancing reminder, copies of commencement speeches, “fake” boutonnieres, a graduation vehicle admission ticket, and more. Seniors will also find letters from staff, college swag, a list of scholarship recipients, any awards earned, and gift items in boxes.
Phase two will be a Graduation Drive-Thru. Each senior and family members will have a “ticket” for one car to be entered into the ceremony. Seniors will drive through “Senior Lane,” stopping at various stations along the way, including a Selfie Station, Grab Bag Station, Sidewalk Signing Station, Diploma Presentation Station, Family Picture Station, Green Screen Photo Station and a Food Station.
“During this time, we are working on potentially having an FM transmitter playing pre-recorded speeches, music, etcetera,” said Rollins.
While all the cars are lined up, the class president will get out of the car and direct all seniors to do the same (at a safe distance), and then direct them in turning of their tassels. The ceremony will conclude with a parade, complete with police and fire department vehicles, through town to JSI, then turning around and making one “final loop” around the PVHS driveway.
“Our Class of 2020 may be small in number, but large in character,” Rollins said. “I, and Penquis Valley, are so proud of all the accomplishments earned and diligence by these seniors throughout their school careers. These students deserve the very best and we are going to work hard to give them just that in these difficult times. Congratulations, Class of 2020! Penquis loves you!”
Piscataquis Community High School, in Guilford, will be hosting a two-night graduation program on June 4 and 5 from 7 to 9 p.m., a plan formulated with student input, according to PCHS Principal John Keane. “What they wanted most of all was to be together,” he said. “They wanted one night to be celebration and one to be more formal, and third, they wanted it some place in this district. With all that in mind, we designed a drive-in experience for both nights.”
The first night will feature a Pirate Flotilla and other celebratory components. The Flotilla envisions students’ cars as pirate ships, with each family safely aboard their own vessel. Students and immediate family will park at PCHS to view a show projected onto an outdoor screen that will include best wishes from the president of the junior class, a series of teacher tributes, a showing of the senior class gifts, reading of the class will, a senior slide show and “a couple more things,” Keane said. “We know that half their senior year was robbed away from them. We are trying to find other ways to make that Flotilla night special for the kids. We are trying to do the best we can to make it memorable.”
On Friday night, student vehicles will again park at the school. A flatbed stage will be the site of commencement presentations by the class valedictorian, salutatorian and one student-at-large guest speaker, as well as presentation of diplomas and scholarships. Students also got to vote for one adult who had made a difference in their lives to be honored, “and they unanimously chose Mrs. Wilson,” Keane said.
Graduation will be projected onto a screen to ensure that everyone in the parked cars can see, and it will be livestreamed for those unable to attend in person. To view, visit https://www.facebook.com/MSAD4/.“Our senior class has shown amazing resiliency throughout their time at PCHS,” Keane said. “It does not surprise me that they have met this pandemic head on and made the best of it. While I am sad that the end of their senior year was much less than what they hoped for, they all worked hard with remote learning and many of them found full-time jobs during the school closure. I have no doubt that the PCHS Class of 2020 will always find the silver linings.”