As high school graduations near, school districts in the North Country have been adjusting their plans to accommodate the pandemic and its social distancing requirements and the lingering uncertainty of when the shutdown will ease and when large gatherings will again be safe and allowed.
Some schools have tentatively pushed back their graduations from the normal dates in early June to two months later in early August in an effort to try to have a traditional graduation, or as close to one as possible.
The latest school to look at an August graduation is Woodsville High School.
Others are going forward with their original June dates, but with social distancing measures in place.
One is Profile School, in Bethlehem, which this week announced its working plan for a Friday, June 5, graduation.
On Wednesday, Kerry Sheehan, principal of Profile School, said it will be a drive-in graduation with a stage for students to walk across after they emerge from their vehicles.
Profile’s graduation will not take place on the school grounds (in normal years, it is held in the school gymnasium), but will be at a different venue that will be announced and at a time still being determined.
“We already have a stage and we are already set, and luckily, we’ve been moving forward for graduation to be on June 5,” said Sheehan. “Caps and gowns are coming on May 13.”
When meeting with the Class of 2020 officers, Sheehan said they had several non-negotiables - no mailed diplomas, no unknown date of graduation, no virtual graduation, and a graduation as close to traditional as possible.
“That is what we are working on now - how to make this the best ‘outside’ of traditional, traditional graduation,” she said.
In speaking with the class officers, the consensus developed around Sheehan’s idea to have it on June 5, and outside.
“It was to give the students a sense of calm and assuredness,” she said. “I did not want to pick a date, plan on ‘traditional’ graduation, and then have to postpone due to gathering restrictions not lifted.”
The drive-in theme was something she’d been thinking about ever since schools were closed in March.
The concern about an August graduation was that some family members and graduates might no longer be in the area by then, said Sheehan.
During Profile’s outside graduation, there will be a large screen at the stage and each graduate will have a slide on which to put his or her favorite quote and five or six photographs that will be flashed the screen.
The exact time of graduation is still being determined in order to avoid sunlight glare and maximize visibility on the screen.
Music will also be different.
Although the Profile School Band and Choir normally perform live at graduations, this year they are performing remotely and individually playing their instruments and singing.
Those individual performances will be recorded and then combined and the recordings will play in the background when the graduates take the stage to receive their diplomas, said Sheehan.
Logistically, the graduation being planned cannot work at the school, where the playing field could also not be used.
Graduates can have up to three car invites each.
“We have 23 seniors, so that’s between 68 and 70 cars, and then our staff has to be there, teachers, school advisors, the superintendent, myself, guidance counselors,” said Sheehan.
Under the state’s emergency orders, no close gatherings of more than 10 people are allowed.
Because of the small class of 23, though, Profile was able to plan and design a graduation in a drive-in style way, she said. Limited space, however, capped the student car invites at three.
“Students not only can decorate their caps, but also their cars,” said Sheehan.
As for the presentation of awards, the timing still has to be figured out, and one possibility is to have it done by video with teachers presenting the awards with student names.
The graduation rain date is Saturday, June 6.
She’s been meeting with the graduating class weekly.
“At first, they said ‘we want a traditional graduation,’” said Sheehan. “I said to the class president I don’t know if we will see that in the next month.”
The drive-in idea was then pitched, the seniors mulled it over, and then agreed to go with it, she said.
“I know the drive-in is acceptable as long as we social distance when on the stage or near the stage,” said Sheehan. “We can manage well within those guidelines.”
Students will be called up, and with the appropriate spacing, will be able to receive their diplomas and “have their moment in the spotlight,” said Sheehan.
There will be guest speakers as well, making for what will probably be a longer than normal graduation.
“It will be a long graduation, but they will have the comfort of being in their cars,” said Sheehan. “I’m excited and looking forward to it. We have a team, the SOS team, Save Our Seniors, and we will start getting into the details next week and planning regularly … I want to make it special for these guys. They’ve worked really hard.”
The next step for the Profile graduates is to decide on a class song.
At the moment, Woodsville High School is looking at a plan to have its graduation in late summer so it can be done in a traditional way.
“While everything is still pretty much up in the air and there is ongoing discussion on the subject, the current consensus is to do a traditional ceremony on Aug. 7 at 10 a.m.,” said WHS Principal. “We would like to do the ceremony in the normal location of King’s Plain (the soccer field next to the school). Additional social distancing precautions have been floated, but nothing is solidified yet.”