Franklin High School celebrates class of 2020 in drive-through graduation ceremony

  • Franklin High School graduates and their families process before the graduation ceremony begins on Friday evening, June 12, 2020. ANN GEHAN—Monitor staff

  • Graduating senior Richard Demmons receives his diploma during Franklin High School’s graduation on Friday evening. ANN GEHAN / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/13/2020 9:35:20 AM

Teachers and staff cheered as each graduate of Franklin High School walked across the stage to pick up their diploma before driving away to the next chapter of their lives.

Social studies teacher and senior advisor Prezley Adair rang the school’s bell, traditionally present at football games and other school events, to mark the occasion.

On Friday at Franklin High, the bell rang 63 times.

“We wanted to add a special touch to the ceremony with something that’s important to the students,” Adair said.

Adair credits principal Carrie Charette with the idea to use the bell during the ceremony, riffing on the popular saying ‘every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.’

“Now, every time a bell rings, a student gets their diploma,” Adair said.

The mix of tradition and innovation was evident Friday, as was sentiment, a key component of any graduating class. For senior Simon Pitman, the day capped a long few months of uncertainty. It wasn’t until May 1, when Gov. Chris Sununu extended the stay-at-home order, that Simon realized his high school career wouldn’t end as he had expected – with prom, senior get-togethers and, of course, graduation.

“It’s weird not being able to finish our last days of high school in person,” said Pitman.

While seniors like Pitman were disappointed to finish their classes virtually, online learning created a special camaraderie amongst the Franklin seniors, as well as a unique bond between the class and their teachers. One standout moment came in the form of a surprise video created by faculty to celebrate the end of the year.

“All our teachers want us to succeed, and showing how much they care and how much the students mean to them was awesome,” Pitman said.

As Franklin graduates began to arrive Friday, it was clear this would be a different – perhaps even more memorable – ceremony.

“Pomp and Circumstance,” the traditional graduation anthem, played over the speakers as the class of 2020 prepared to officially bring their high school journeys to a close. The ceremony reflected both long-held graduation traditions and a few changes – the graduates processed into the ceremony in a parade of cars flashing celebratory hazard lights, the music punctuated by honking car horns.

Given the limitations on physical gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Franklin High administrators opted for a drive-through graduation ceremony this year to allow graduates, their families, and school faculty to celebrate the achievements of the class of 2020 in person while still adhering to social distancing protocols.

Faculty and staff watched from socially distant seating on the school’s front lawn, while some family members and friends gathered on the sidewalk in front of the school and across the street to watch the ceremony. The graduates and their family members participated in a procession of vehicles through town and in front of the high school led by Franklin police and fire vehicles before circling the school to line up for the presentation of diplomas.

Each graduate received their moment in the spotlight, walking across the stage as assistant principal Peter Schmidt read out their names. They picked up their diploma from administrators wearing masks and gloves. Families got into the spirit of the adapted ceremony, decorating their cars with celebratory balloons, streamers, and signs congratulating their graduates.

Despite the nontraditional ceremony, the Franklin community was able to mark the moment in a meaningful way on Friday. Students and teachers exchanged air hugs, elbow bumps, and even a few real hugs as the class of 2020 said its goodbyes and posed for photos with their diplomas in front of the school building.

The class of 2020 will gather again at a future date, once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, to celebrate their accomplishments with their teachers and families.

For now, seniors and their families are focused on celebrating their accomplishments as best as they can.

“Right now, we’re all just happy to be able to graduate high school together, even after all this happened,” Pitman said.

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