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Administrators strive to make graduation 2020 special

By Sarah E. Reynolds | May 21, 2020
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Belfast Area High School Principal Jeff Lovejoy, left, hands Assistant Principal Colden Golann signs with graduating students' names on them to be placed on their front lawn as one of 15 faculty members who helped with the distribution looks on.

Of all the unprecedented results of the novel coronavirus, one of the most widely felt in Waldo County surely must be the loss of high school graduations and other events marking the end of seniors' secondary school years.

As each of the four high schools in the county seeks ways to recognize graduates and cap their high school careers, sympathetic administrators acknowledge that, short of being able to have a traditional graduation, awards night, prom and so on, nothing else will really feel the same. Still, they are determined to do the best they can for the class of 2020.

The attitudes of seniors themselves range from deep sadness and even depression to a sort of get-on-with-it resignation in the face of something that cannot be changed.

As this story was coming together, principals at Belfast Area, Mount View and Searsport District high schools and Islesboro Central School were working with students and staff to firm up how graduation and other end-of-year events would be handled.

Mount View

Mount View Principal Zackary Freeman has been meeting with senior class officers as well as high school and district staff. "It's been hard for everybody," he said of the graduation dilemma. "I feel terrible for all of our seniors. ... We're going to make sure they're celebrated the best we can under the circumstances."

In a recent letter to students and their families, Freeman outlined plans. Graduation and Senior Night will both take place June 14. Students will receive assigned times during the day to come to the high school in small groups with immediate family members. Seniors in each group will view prerecorded speeches by Class President Hannah Oliver, valedictorian Logan Wadick and Salutatorian Odin Gage, and will hear live remarks from Freeman and Regional School Unit Superintendent Charles Brown.

Students will be recorded as they receive their diplomas, and the clips edited into a video that will be given to seniors.

That evening at 8:30, Senior Night will be held in the student and faculty parking lots at the high school, according to Freeman's letter. A projection screen will be set up on the football practice field, where participants can see the full graduation speeches, the end of the year awards, senior class slideshow and an entire class recognition of graduation.

Mount View senior and National Honor Society member Kaylee Corson said the loss of seniors' culminating events is "very sad. It's been depleting my energy." She said she feels sorry for senior athletes who have missed their final seasons.

Corson, who lives in Unity, mentioned a Mount View tradition in which seniors walk through the complex as younger students line the hallways. She said she wishes she could do that walk through the school she has been in since second grade. "I really miss the sense of community in this school and how close everybody was," she said.

This fall, she will go to Waterville to attend Thomas College's accelerated program in international business management and administration.

Isaac Gonzalez of Montville said of missing graduation and other senior-year milestones, "It's a little sad, but I've been working." He has not had much schoolwork, as he is carrying just one class. He works as a laborer for George C. Hall & Sons construction in Rockland.

"Graduation et cetera would have been cool, but it's not the end of the world, as long as I get my diploma," he said, adding that he would have liked to put off graduation until it was possible to have a traditional ceremony.

This fall, he plans to attend Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor to learn welding with the goal of entering the pipe-fitting industry.

Islesboro Central

In a message to students and their families earlier this month, Islesboro Central School Principal Charles Hamm said graduation would take place June 7. "Plans are underway and will reflect past traditions as closely as possible," he said. In an interview May 15, he said the school is planning a "modified traditional" graduation with fewer than 50 people that will probably be held in the Kinnicutt Center. Islesboro has just nine graduating seniors, which will facilitate compliance with health authorities' guidelines, he said.

"We really want to honor our seniors and their families and all the work they've gone through," Hamm said. Plans are not final yet, but Hamm said he has some surprises up his sleeve to make the occasion special for the graduates. "They've had a tough year all the way around," he said. "This (experience) is traumatic."

While he said the shutdown and all its ramifications would affect students for the rest of their lives, Hamm did not think all the effects would be bad. He said seniors had shown resilience and would be prepared for remote learning in college, if and when it becomes necessary.

The seniors are "a phenomenal bunch of kids," he said.

Student CJ Abbott said the experience of the shutdown "will definitely be a time to remember and talked about for a long time." He said the enforced separation has strengthened friendships among his classmates and brought them together. He plans to attend Maine College of Art in Portland in the fall to study photography.

Classmate Patrick Kehoe said a silver lining of the last several weeks has been that he has developed more independence about pursuing learning on his own. With just two high school classes, he is taking free courses through Yale University, one in negotiation and another in marketing. He is also teaching himself to write computer code.

"I've never really been a big prom guy," he said, but he does regret missing his club soccer season with DSA in Warren. He will attend Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., and wants to study economics or business management.

Belfast Area

"We're trying to make it as meaningful and as close to what students and families are hoping for (as we can)," BAHS Principal Jeff Lovejoy said of plans for a live drive-in graduation Saturday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m. He is working with senior class officers to finalize the venue for graduation, as well as arrangements for baccalaureate and senior recognition events, and he hopes to have all the details nailed down soon.

When he spoke to The Journal May 12, he was able to say that graduation ceremonies would include live speeches from the class valedictorian, salutatorian and honor essay winner.

BAHS has honored graduating athletes with signs posted on school grounds, and when he spoke to us, Lovejoy was planning to meet some of the staff at the school the morning of May 16 to pick up lawn signs and deliver them to the homes of all seniors in the district in recognition of their achievement of completing high school.

He said this long period of remote instruction may advance learning technology, but he did not think the long-term effects on students would be known for a while.

BAHS valedictorian Syd Sanders said missing out on a traditional graduation after weeks of remote learning is "very lonely." He is writing cards to all his teachers to say goodbye.

Sanders will attend Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass., this fall and plans to study international relations. He hopes to join the U.S. diplomatic corps.

BAHS senior Katie Ritchie of Belfast said the period since mid-March has been busy, but in a different way than usual. Unable to hang out with friends, she has spent more time on homework and with family, she said.

Sad about missing experiences like prom and graduation, she said she is especially disappointed not to be able to be senior captain of the track team, as she had been chosen to be. She has been throwing the discus at home and is looking forward to joining the track team at the University of Maine. Eventually she would like to return to BAHS to teach history.

Ritchie said she thought the experience of the pandemic and shutdown would have a lasting effect on people in her class, similar to other catastrophic historic events. "I can remember being in the library the day before they called off school," she said.

She said she thinks her generation will appreciate education more as a result of this time, along with health, and that there will be an increased focus on hygiene and health practices.

Searsport District

With only 37 seniors, SDHS may be less affected by social distancing strictures than schools with more students. Searsport Principal Marianne DeRaps said seniors have nearly settled on a plan where students will come to the school by appointment and march across the stage individually to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance."

Their adviser, DeRaps and RSU 20 Superintendent Chris Downing will be on stage to congratulate them, with social distancing guidelines observed, and the whole process will be captured on video the week of May 25.

The video then will be edited to look like a traditional graduation with all students present together. It will be shown on a screen set up in the school parking lot the evening of June 11 for the graduation ceremony. "We want to make it as real as possible," DeRaps said.

A virtual Senior Awards Night will be held June 4 at 6 p.m., via Google Meet, at which awards and scholarships will be presented. It will be livestreamed on YouTube and recorded for later viewing, she said.

"My heart really breaks for our seniors and for senior all across our country," DeRaps said. "It is important that we do whatever we can to make (graduation) as real and as meaningful and as memorable as we can for them."

Gabe Poulin of Stockton Springs, a javelin thrower at Searsport, said one thing that has been especially hard for him is missing his final track season. The Student Council president and class treasurer said his school is doing a good job of maintaining a meaningful graduation. He would have liked to have the ceremony at a drive-in theater with just immediate family invited.

Poulin plans to attend University of Maine this fall to study computer science; he wants to go into videogame design or cyber-security.

Senior Class President Jenna Keach said it has been hard not being in school with her teachers and friends in her final year. She said she talks to friends daily, but it's not the same as being together. She is disappointed that there will be no senior prom. "I was really excited for prom this year, and I already had my dress planned out," but she said she likes the plan for graduation outlined by DeRaps.

Keach, who lives in Searsport, said she would also like to have a car parade of graduates where the community could see that they graduated. She is going to Husson University in Bangor in the fall; she hopes to earn a master's in criminal justice and eventually work as a police detective.

Missing out on a traditional graduation from high school will make graduating from college more poignant for her and her classmates, Keach believes. "I also think it's going to make all of us stronger," she said.

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