While it was not the graduation ceremony anyone envisioned, or wanted, WHRHS held a drive-up commencement ceremony, handing out 223 diplomas over three and one half hours Friday, July 31.
One by one, members of the senior class and family members who could fit in a single vehicle drove up to the school’s front entrance. They picked up their diploma from a low table and approached the spirit rock where they posed for individual photos with Principal Dr. Christopher Jones, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak and School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes. Family members were then asked to join their seniors for group photos. After a brief delay, a school official played a loop of “Pomp and Circumstance” for the event.
Some students tossed their caps in the air for photos after receiving their diplomas; others just accepted their diploma and departed.
“I can’t even imagine what your life has been like,” one mom told Jone’s Administrative Assistant Siobhan Horton as she organized diplomas. “I have so much gratitude.”
“People that came to the drive-up graduation were very, very grateful the School District did that for the graduating seniors,” Hayes said. “It was very well received. People seemed to be very happy to make the best out of a situation that was very difficult.”
In an effort to provide some semblance or normalcy, the Whitman-Hanson Express is printing our usual graduation section this week [see insert], including the text of speeches student speakers planned to deliver, the Class Gift and Ode, Teacher and Staff Member of the Year honors and lists of scholarship recipients.
Horton does much of the work organizing commencement ceremonies each year. She said seniors who have joined the military and already reported for basic training came in earlier this summer to receive their diplomas, as did an exchange student from Brazil.
The School District has not yet planned how diplomas will be awarded to Community Evening School.
“I do not like the idea of a virtual graduation either, but it was the event I could promise as the next best solution given the time frame,” Jones said in his statement. “In short, it provided an option in the event I could not come up with something else. One last thing. Something I have said from the beginning of this current pandemic. Offer grace, time, and patience because we never know the whole story.”
Reaction was not positive when the announcement was made Friday afternoon, to change the event from a socially distant ceremony only hours after a rehearsal. The social media clap back motivated Jones to respond.
“I typically do not respond to personal insults on social media because they are born from emotion, but this is an exception,” Jones stated in an open letter to parents. “This decision was not arbitrary. It was recommended by the Board of Health in both towns. We just cannot responsibly put 1,600 people in an area together given the information we both have and don’t have.”
Not everyone believed it, judging by social media feedback and requests from some seniors for their class dues back.
But several parents were supportive, either on social media or in person Friday afternoon.
“Just came home from our Drive Thru Graduation for our son! How lovely,” effused Julie Bailey of Hanson on Twitter. “So organized and all the faculty were great!! Thank you for everything!! Great job for our grads.”
A School Committee meeting slated for Thursday, July 30 as a placeholder in the event either town meeting rejected the school budget and/or assessment compromise was also cancelled. The School Committee’s next meeting is expected to review reopening plans for the 2020-21 school year.
It’s wonderful that the people overwhelmingly supported the school budget, so that’s a good thing,” Hayes said. “The school reopening, obviously, changes as we move forward. DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and the governor’s office, everyone’s involved, so each opening seems to be changing a little bit on the regulations. Obviously, this is a first time for everybody. There’s never been this type of a pandemic before.”