There will be no hugs, high-fives or handshakes for the Class of 2020. However, Rhode Island’s 105 high schools are doing their best to create memorial graduation experiences filled with pomp and circumstance. The novel ceremonies for the thousands of seniors who were born during 9/11 and will graduate during a global pandemic are virtual while adhering to social distancing and other pandemic rules and restrictions.
“We know it’s a special time for seniors,” Justine Loiselle, who has been an educator at Cumberland High for the last 20 years. “We want to make it as special as we can – despite the circumstances.”
….even if that meant Loiselle and others had to rise at the crack of dawn on an early April morning. At 7 a.m. that Sunday morning, a group of Cumberland High teachers and administrators met, mapped out their routes and delivered 340 lawn signs branded with a congratulatory message to each member of the school’s senior class.
“We put the signs on each senior’s lawn so that when they woke up on Sunday morning they had a nice surprise,” said Loiselle. “It was great.”
There have been a variety of weekly activities including a “Decorate a Door Contest” in which the winner was delivered pizza by Principal Adolfo Costa and Captain Clipper, the school’s mascot. This week, a scavenger hunt will be part of the virtual Senior Week activities.
“We wanted to make it as special as we could for the seniors given the circumstances,” said Loiselle. “They (the teachers and administrators) did the best they could with what they had. They did a nice job for them (the graduates) and the kids really appreciate it.”
Like the majority of the schools throughout Rhode Island, Cumberland’s actual graduation ceremony is virtual. It will be shown this week – although it actually already took place.
Abiding by the state guidelines, the Cumberland students each received an appointment to come to the school, cross the stage and receive their diploma. Each student was allowed to bring five people to watch and cheer as the senior performed their last task as a high school student.
Wearing their caps and gowns, the Cumberland seniors, who were safely separated from their classmates, received gift bags, quarantine themed t-shirts and Cumberland-branded masks.
The pomp and circumstance was held in the foyer, which had been transformed to a graduation backdrop, complete with an elaborate stage – thanks to Costa.
When the pandemic began and it was evident that the traditional graduation would not take place, Costa headed to Lowe’s and gathered materials and everything he needed to create an elaborate stage to provide a meaningful and memorable backdrop for Cumberland’s graduating seniors.
“Our principal built the ramp in the foyer with his own two hands…literally built it himself, physically.. He and his team spent a week building. He (Costa) came here two years ago on the heels of Alan Tenreiro, who was the (2016) National Principal of the Year. He has had big shoes to fill and has been amazing.”
The last home run may have been hit at McCoy Stadium, but the Pawtucket School Department also hit it out of the Park with their graduation plans for the city’s three public schools – Charles E. Shea, William E. Tolman and Jaqueline M. Walsh. A virtual graduation will be held with McCoy Stadium as the backdrop.
Each school has a designated day to host its graduation ceremony at McCoy including the opportunity to dress the stage with decorations, flowers and their school colors. Students are allowed to bring four people to watch as they walk across the stage at McCoy and accept their diplomas.
“Seems like my age group has been through it all. We were born during 9/11 and now we are graduating in the middle of an epidemic,” said Shea High senior Jaylen Smith, who will continue his education and football career at URI in the fall. “Though we have not had the best of luck I feel like we handled it well with the circumstances.”
The Pawtucket Teachers Alliance and administrators have teamed up and hit a homerun by providing the regalia, congratulatory window signs and individual graduation portraits for each student. The videos of each student accepting their diploma, along with speeches from the valedictorians and others, will be assembled into a video. The completed graduation video for each school will air on Capitol TV on the night of the school’s scheduled graduation. Tolman’s ceremony will air on June 10th at 8 p.m., followed by Shea on June 11 at 8 p.m. and JMW on June 12 at 6p.m..
Smith will be one of several Shea seniors who will have a gold charm hanging from his tassel. The charm is in the shape of a pineapple and has a letter D in the center. The charm will be worn in memory of Shea teacher Talia Delmonico, who died unexpectedly during the academic year. Delmonico, who had a passion for gold and pineapples, was 36.
“Mrs. Delmonico’s special tassel makes graduation in an epidemic meaningful,” said Smith. “It will never replace her presence though. She made a huge impact on my life and continues to as she watches over me. She is the light of Shea high school.”
Providence’s eleven public schools will each host virtual graduations. The Providence School District is working with Herff Jones/MarchingOrder to create a unique ceremony for each of the city’s schools. Every senior from each of the Providence public schools has the opportunity to submit a picture and video clip which will be put together to create the graduation ceremony. Students will be recognized individually. The ceremonies will also include speeches from the valedictorians and others. The virtual graduations will air at the end of June and will also be available online for an extended period of time.
“Every school has its own culture,” said Laura Hart, Director of Communications, Providence Public School. “Each school will have its own unique graduation ceremony.”
“Oddly enough, when our students had their senior pictures taken months ago, we asked them to wear their cap and gowns,” said Judy D’Antuono, Assistant Principal of Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School.
While the actual graduation ceremonies will air at the end of June, the Alvarez students will bid farewell on June 8, when they walk through the high school one final time to turn in their Chrome books and pick up their diploma.
“It will be a final sort of passage through the building,” said D’Antuono. “We’re a small school and a very close-knit community. Unfortunately there won’t be hugs and kisses to celebrate graduation when we see each other. It will be an emotional day.”
South Kingstown High graduation is typically held at the University of Rhode Island. This year, the auditorium was the backdrop for the filming of the Rebels’ virtual graduation. As each senior crossed the stage and received their diploma, they looked out into the audience and saw every member of the SK senior class, including themselves. A large poster-size picture of each member of the senior class was placed in the seats to create an audience for the ceremony.
Bishop Hendricken is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, but for the first time since the all-boys school opened its doors six decades ago, its students won’t graduate at the St. Peter & Paul Cathedral in Providence.
This year, the Hawks will take their last flight with a Drive-Thru & Drive-In Graduation Celebration scheduled for Friday, June 26.
The evening will kick-off with a drive-thru car parade which will allow seniors to fill their cars with family members as passengers for their final visit to the Warwick campus. The 200 seniors and their respective families will pass through the campus with a faculty “honor guard” along the route. From a social distance, faculty and staff will be able to congratulate their students.
Then, the festivities will transition to Aldrich Mansion, the site of the former Hendricken senior campus. The Class of 2020 will gather together for the final time and experience a drive-in graduation ceremony with live addresses from the valedictorian, salutatorian, and administration followed by a special video presentation featuring each senior in his cap and gown. The graduation ceremony, which will also include a quote from each senior, will be shown on six large screens. Immediately following the ceremony, the evening will finish off with a light show overlooking Narragansett Bay.
The students will pick up their diplomas in one of six tents set up on the lawn and have the opportunity to have their pictures taken.
“When this (pandemic) all started, we put a task force together to see what we could do to preserve the Bishop Hendricken (senior) experience. Our first priority was to save graduation,” said Hendricken Principal Mark DeCiccio.
“Hawks Last Flight’ was quickly created.
“Our hope is that both of these facets – drive-thru and drive-in – provide seniors, their families, and our faculty & staff with a meaningful graduation experience and an important sense of closure,” said DeCicco.
Throughout the evening, all of the events will adhere to social distancing, face covering, and graduation guidelines set forth by the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island Department of Education, respectively.
“I actually think this could be the way of the future for Hendrcken,” said DeCiccio. “Typically, after graduation at the Cathedral everyone goes into the parking lot in their caps and gowns and then it’s over and everyone goes their separate way. In the future, I’d like the students to graduate at the Cathedral and then host a celebration at Aldrich Mansion. It’s beautiful there.”