Local school districts share commencement plans

Later this month, local high-school seniors will close a key chapter of their academic lives in a much different fashion than they expected. The Covid 19 pandemic has been upending not only the daily school routine, but also the various benchmarks to which most students look forward. Using guidelines from governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and after soliciting feedback from their own communities, area school districts last week detailed their plans for commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020. These plans are very different this year from last.

The annual rite of passage of students and families gathering en masse is on hold for the time being. School districts have been forced to improvise, recalibrating the traditional ceremonial practice of walking across to stage to receive a diploma by adopting social distancing and other preventative measures to help minimize the impact of the pandemic. 

Kingston High School graduation in 2018. (Photo by Phyllis McCabe)

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Kingston High School

After a recent change made by Governor Cuomo regarding event capacity held in New York State, the Kingston High School (KHS) graduation committee comprised of students, parents, teachers, administrators and board of education members, has decided to amend the original plans for the 2020 commencement ceremony.

The students have had a goal to walk together and graduate as one class before saying goodbye to KHS. The graduation committee has scheduled a full commencement ceremony at Dietz Stadium for Friday, July 17 at 5 p.m.  This date was chosen to give a week of flexibility for possible changes or set-backs to the phased re-opening.

Other activities already under way for KHS include the delivery of lawn signs for graduating seniors, and the drive-through pickup of yearbooks and caps and gowns at the high school. Caps and gowns were made available on Wednesday, June 17 during the senior send-off at KHS, at which graduating seniors said goodbye to teachers and staff. A virtual athletic awards ceremony will take place on June 18.  

For information about KHS Class of 2020 graduation plans, visit: https://www.kingstoncityschools.org/Page/4114

Saugerties High School graduation in 2019. (Courtesy of BOCES)

Saugerties High School

The Saugerties High School Class of 2020 will have the chance to experience an in-person graduation ceremony, albeit one that will look significantly different than usual. The tripartite ceremony will unfold on Friday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m., with a video tribute, speeches, diplomas and the traditional transfer of the tassel. Seniors will remain in cars with their families for the duration, however. A live video feed will be available for family and friends unable to attend the ceremony. 

The second part of the commencement exercise will be a parade of graduates and their families driving through the streets of Saugerties, with local police and fire departments leading the procession. Specific information about the parade route will be released by Friday, June 19, with the path ending in the Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex. Other details of the ceremony will also be released at that time. 

The third part of the ceremony will be the public release of a virtual graduation video already in production. 

Saugerties High School principal Thomas Averill said the ceremony came together based on guidance from the county health department, plus feedback from students, parents, faculty and the community. 

“The way this town works, once we get a lot of the townspeople involved, things happen,” Averill said. “We were able to obtain a donation from Michael Lang Jr. for a 20-by-30-foot vinyl screen that we’re going to hang off the auditorium. And once we knew we could get the cars in a line from the parking lot to the soccer field to the driveway, I thought we could be confident that we could pull it off. This allows the parents to celebrate with their child.”

Averill said that the ceremony will take place as currently planned barring an unexpected change in social-distancing protocols. “If it changes, we can certainly change up what we do for the graduation if I have a week to do it,” he said. “If they make a change, we can change to a social distancing in person.”

But even if things remain as they are, Averill said he was pleased with the district’s plans to amend the traditional graduation ceremony with the current health regulations in mind. 

“I think we have a really exciting graduation,” he said. “I’m excited for the kids and the community. Parents, students and faculty are excited. Now we know our direction and we know where we’re heading, we’re going to try to make this the best day possible for them.”

For information about the SHS Class of 2020 graduation plans, visit: https://www.saugerties.k12.ny.us/cms/lib/NY24000038/Centricity/Domain/73/Graduation%20letter%20to%20Class%20of%202020.6.3.2020.docx

New Paltz High School graduation in 2019. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz High School

The New Paltz High School Class of 2020 graduation ceremony will take occur over what is being touted as a three-act event spread out over a dozen days. In a letter dated Thursday, June 4, the officers of the Class of 2020 outlined the process that went into the formulation of the plans. 

“Based upon the feedback we received, we were able to draw three significant conclusions,” read the letter. “One, it was clear that our seniors wanted a meaningful celebration to honor their high school graduation. Two, the community wished to have a celebration that involves the family witnessing a ‘cap and gown/diploma moment’ where they can observe and take a picture of their student ‘graduating.’ Three, our seniors wanted the opportunity to celebrate together. It was these points that resonated the most as we planned the commencement exercises to honor the Class of 2020 and celebrate despite the many restrictions due to Covid 19.”

Act 1: The Final Bell. Students returned to campus in an organized fashion on Monday, June 15 where they were able to pick up caps and gowns, Honor Society stoles, retrieve anything left in their lockers when schools closed their doors in mid-March, and return district materials they might still have. There was also a ceremonial final bell to dismiss students. Timing was based upon a student’s last name, with the understanding that not every student would be able to attend The Final Bell. All participating students remained in their cars for this event. 

Act 2: Walking Together took place on Tuesday, June 16, with students and families in up to two vehicles allowed to drive to New Paltz High School. Students had their names announced, proceeded through a ceremonial arch in cap and gown, and crossed the stage to receive their diploma cover if desired, in effect “graduating” from high school. 

Act 3: Moving Forward Together will happen on the day originally set aside for the commencement ceremony, Friday, June 26 at 8 p.m. Set to take place in the parking lot at NPHS, the celebration will happen drive-in movie style with pre-recorded video including a traditional look back, clips from the first two acts of this year’s ceremony, music from the high-school band and choir, a commencement speaker, and speeches from the valedictorian, salutatorian and school officials. The audio component of the footage will be transmitted on an FM station to allow those in attendance to experience it fully from the safety of their vehicles. The ceremony will then be made available on YouTube. 

Class officers last week also released a statement announcing a one-time New Paltz High School Class of 2020 Vision Scholarship which will award $1000 to four college-bound students who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus. During a meeting of the school board held virtually on June 3, trustee Sophia Skiles read the statement from Aedan Sennett (president), Zack Grazioso (vice-president), Ashlyn O’Hara (secretary) and Christina Rust (treasurer). 

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“We have all collectively noticed that since the start of the pandemic people have been selfish,” read Skiles. “They care about their own health and their own supplies without considering how badly this virus has affected others, even people in our own community. Our peers have chosen us to be leaders and entrusted us with dictating our class events. This isn’t something that we take lightly. We appreciate everything our classes has done for us by electing us and are eager to give back whatever we can for classmates affected by this pandemic.” While all seniors have had their student experiences upended by the pandemic, some have been hit harder than others. 

“Together the Class of 2020 has missed out on our last year at New Paltz High School,” read Skiles. “We missed out on our last experiences, dances and normalcy at the school we spent twelve years of our lives at. None of this is fair to any senior, but we want to give thanks and show our respect to those classmates that were affected dramatically .… While the NPHS class of 2020 is saddened to have our senior year cut short and miss out on traditional celebratory events like the senior ball and trip, we are happy to be able to contribute our funds to families in need who were impacted the pandemic.”

For information about the NPHS Class of 2020 graduation plans, visit: 

https://www.newpaltz.k12.ny.us/Page/12985

Onteora High School graduation in 2018. (Photo by Alan Carey)

Onteora High School

The Onteora High School Class of 2020 commencement ceremony is scheduled to take place on Thursday, June 25 beginning with a ceremony broadcast on Radio Woodstock WDST 100.1 FM at 5 p.m., followed a half-hour later by the beginning of a caravan procession through the community. Families, friends and local residents are encouraged to engage in an enthusiastic socially distant celebration along the parade route by making noise and waving signs. 

The caravan route will begin and Onteora High and follow Route 28 to Main Street in Phoenicia, run on Plank Road, Wittenberg Road and turn onto Tinker Street through the hamlet of Woodstock. The caravan will then take Route 375 to Route 28, follow Reservoir Road, Basin Road and Dike Road to Route 28A, returning to Route 28 and Onteora High. Students will be provided with further information about how to assemble and other requirements for the graduation ceremony. 

For information about the OHS Class of 2020 graduation plans, visit: https://ohs.onteora.k12.ny.us/about-us/news-story/~board/high-school-news/post/2020-commencement-information-1591118459361