With schools closed for the remainder of the academic year, local educators are pondering creative ways to honor graduates as safely as possible.
Hunter-Tannersville Central School District, which has 25 graduates, is planning a unique graduation ceremony for June 27.
“The message was clear, they wanted something at the end of their year and as traditional as possible,” Superintendent Susan Vickers said. “The final plan employs social distancing and mass gathering guidelines, but still makes for an outstanding celebration of accomplishment.”
Part of the ceremony will take place at Hunter Mountain. While graduates and their families remain in their cars, WRIP Radio will host the ceremony live on air, like a drive-in theater, Vickers said.
Following the live broadcast, in both Hunter and Tannersville, the celebration will end with bags for each graduate with their diplomas, scholarships and special parting gifts.
The district’s seniors had to cancel big events this spring, like their senior trip and prom.
“The classes of 2020 lost a lot this year, but that does not define them,” Vickers said. “What does define them is their ability to address a situation and move on. They think on their feet and they are resilient. These characteristics will help them succeed throughout their lives.”
Hunter-Tannersville teachers have stepped up to make their students feel special, delivering yard signs, recording words of recognition, advice and memories, and displaying their senior portraits in town.
Vickers challenged seniors to look for the silver lining.
“You lost out on a lot of traditional end-of-year activities, you were and are the only class to create and enjoy new celebrations of your accomplishments,” Vickers said. “No other class, outside of the ones during Vietnam, received such purposeful acts of acknowledgement during their last months as a senior. Everyone in our community is thinking of you, and doing what they can to make your graduation special.”
Vickers said students are not missing out, but instead becoming a class that will make its mark wherever they go. Students are also spending extra time with their families.
“Cherish this time, as it is unique, but it also helps place perspective on where our foundation lays,” Vickers said. “Your family at home and your family at school will forever have your back.”
Windham-Ashland-Jewett Superintendent John Wiktorko said his district’s seniors, who have handled this situation with understanding and grace, are going on to serve in the armed forces, attend rigorous colleges and universities, and enter the workforce after graduation.
“WAJ commencement ceremonies are filled with joy, pride and tradition,” Wiktorko said. “It is no surprise that direct input from families and students places having this traditional ceremony, in-person, on-campus and on the original date, as the first choice.”
Recognizing that this might not be possible, even with restrictions and safety measures, the district is planning several alternate options.
WAJ is honoring seniors on its website, on WRIP Radio and with banners on campus and at seniors’ homes.
“Life’s journey often provides opportunities that first appear to be serious challenges,” Wiktorko said. “It is not what happens, but how a person responds to adversity that defines personal success and happiness. The COVID-19 situation is one of these serious challenges. For many, this situation has put life and our journey into perspective.”
Coxsackie-Athens is planning an outside event for its 101 graduating seniors, but is waiting on an announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo before committing to a plan.
“We have scenarios to use our school parking lot or stadium field as well as the local drive-in,” District Superintendent Randy Squier said.
Community members are “adopting” seniors, and staff will be doing spirit activities to honor seniors in coming weeks.
Squier said his heart goes out to seniors over the loss of these milestones.
Many high schools throughout the county are honoring graduates by delivering Class of 2020 yard signs to each senior.
The Coxsackie-Athens High School Student Council is working with A Few Guys Signs to cover the district in school pride and support its graduates. A portion of payment for each sign is helping to fund a scholarship for a 2020 graduate.
Cairo-Durham sent a letter to seniors’ families May 8 regarding graduation, tentatively rescheduling its graduation ceremony to July 17 in hopes that restrictions will be lifted by then.
“It is disheartening to realize that our seniors have lost so many senior year experiences due to the current pandemic,” high school Principal Paula McKeown said. “The Cairo-Durham High School graduation tradition is a special one, which we are hoping to replicate as much as possible.”
The graduation committee is meeting regularly to plan alternative arrangements for the 88 graduates, and is considering input from students and their families.
“We, like many other schools, are waiting to see what the governor is going to do,” District Clerk Bridget Agostinoni said.
The Catskill school district conducted a survey May 8 with different options for honoring graduating seniors.
“The school closures and social-distancing regulations have also impacted our traditional recognition celebrations and school-related activities, which includes moving-up ceremonies and graduation,” Superintendent Ronel Cook said. “This is heart-wrenching, especially for the Class of 2020.”
Abby Hoover is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.