Columbia schools weigh modified graduation

File photoIchabod Crane High School on Route 9 in Valatie.

Closed for the remainder of the academic year, local schools are thinking of creative ways to honor graduates.

The Hudson Common Council introduced a resolution at the May 11 informal meeting to honor graduating seniors, naming June as Graduates’ Month.

Hudson Central School District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier and senior high school Principal Robert LaCasse shared a letter with students and families May 9.

“We are doing everything in our power to give the HHS Class of 2020 as close to a ‘traditional’ graduation ceremony as possible given the current state of affairs,” according to the letter.

Administrators explored holding an indoor ceremony that would allow for small groups at a time, but decided it was not feasible.

In years past, graduation has drawn between 800 and 900 guests, which would violate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on mass gatherings.

School officials are now planning an outdoor graduation ceremony at the Bluehawk Sports Complex.

“The allowable size of the event, how safely we can conduct the ceremony and planning for inevitable weather contingencies are the dominant factors in any district decision,” according to the letter. “No matter how we must do it, we are planning to honor graduates in person.

Hudson High School has about 125 graduating seniors. Hudson High School, like many in the county, is honoring graduates by delivering Class of 2020 yard signs to each senior.

“Our hearts and thoughts are with them constantly,” Suttmeier said. “We want to do all we can to preserve what we can and to let them know how proud we are of them. We need to hold our heads up high and make the best out of an awful situation.”

An alternative graduation ceremony for New Lebanon High School’s 38 graduates was developed with input from Columbia County Emergency Management, Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett, New Lebanon Town Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling, Lebanon Valley Protective Association, the district’s insurance carrier, counsel and administrative team.

“We share the loss of our ability to join together to celebrate, to mourn and to acknowledge various milestones,” New Lebanon Superintendent Leslie Whitcomb said. “These celebrations have been curtailed to protect personal and community health and to be in full compliance with our governor’s executive orders.”

The ceremony will take place in the school’s circle drive. Students and their families will remain in their vehicles.

Graduates will have the opportunity to pick up their diplomas and take a family photo.

“Each student will be in full view if their classmates parked facing the table within the bus circle,” Whitcomb said. “Speeches will be broadcast to be played on car radios. We invite our graduates to decorate their cars so that our Route 20 recessional can be enjoyed not only by our grads, but by the community as a whole.”

Ichabod Crane is working to develop plans with county officials, students and families for its 131 seniors.

“We traditionally do an outdoor graduation, and an outdoor ceremony adhering to all safety guidelines would be our goal if possible,” District Communications Specialist Aaron Bogert said. “If an on-campus venue isn’t possible, we’ll try exploring other outdoor venue options.”

Bogert said the seniors made it clear they want to graduate together in some communal way, if possible.

Early on in the crisis the district postponed prom at Birch Hill, and is hoping to reschedule it sometime this summer.

“You are an incredible group of young adults that are handling this situation as best as you can,” Bogert said to seniors. “We are proud of you, we are working hard to honor you, and we miss you. We know it has been a tough spring, but we are confident that you will come out of this situation stronger than you have ever been.”

Taconic Hills Superintendent Neil Howard said the district has spent a great deal of time creating a ceremony worthy of its students to celebrate their achievements while remaining safe.

“With help from our senior class officers and advisers we have planned a virtual graduation,” Howard said. “Students will still be able to ‘walk the stage’ with their family watching. A one-hour video is being produced with many of the important features of our typical commencement ceremony.”

Many seniors and parents have expressed their disappointment in not being able to get together, Howard said, but they are happy with the description of the plan.

While prom has been postponed until the fall, year-end award ceremonies will take place virtually. The district plans to celebrate its 87 graduating seniors during Homecoming Weekend in October.

“The accomplishments of the Taconic Hills Class of 2020 will live on long after this crisis ends,” Howard said. “You will not have a graduation like others have had before you but will now have a graduation and experience that creates bonds with each other that will hopefully last a lifetime.”

Abby Hoover is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. Contact her at

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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