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Class of 2020 graduation ceremonies include massive outdoor events, a drive around a racetrack and even a chairlift to the top of a ski mountain 

  • Lauren Zervos poses in front of John Stark Regional High School with her cap and gown on Wednesday. Her mother works at the school and was able to get her cap and gown early. Zervos, who was chosen to speak by the faculty, said she is grateful to have a ceremony at all. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Lauren Zervos in front of John Stark Regional High School with her cap and gown on Wednesday, June 4, 2020. Her mother works at the school and was able to get her cap and gown early. Zervos was chosen to speak by the faculty, said she is grateful to have a ceremony during the pandemic at all, when some other high schools have opted out of in-person celebrations altogether. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Published: 6/5/2020 5:09:07 PM

Emma Wilke won’t be addressing her fellow members of the Class of 2020 inside a packed Bow High School gymnasium this year.

The president of the senior class will be one of three graduates to deliver a speech at an outdoor ceremony at the Fisher Cats’ baseball stadium in Manchester next Saturday. The event will be massively spread out to keep everyone a safe distance from one another, something that could never have happened in the gym.

That’s just one of the twists the coronavirus has dealt to the class of 2020, which has missed out on moments that are meant to be some of the most special in all of high school: prom, awards ceremonies, pranks, skip days and final sports seasons.

Wilke said that when she first began writing her speech, she was tempted to focus on the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted her and her classmates’ senior year. Then she changed her mind. 

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this class really cannot be defined by the past three months, we’ve worked way too hard for that,” Wilke said. “We deserve to be celebrated as who we’ve grown to be and who we will grow to become, not a virus that tried to get in our way.”

Like Bow, high schools across New Hampshire are finding new ways to celebrate their seniors with innovative graduation ceremonies that keep social distancing measures in place from riding chairlifts to the top a ski mountain in North Conway to driving around a race track in Loudon. Some plans are so good, they were borrowed. Both Pittsfield High School and Pembroke Academy will also be holding their graduation ceremonies at the Fisher Cats stadium, which is sitting idle with no baseball being played.

Here are some of the plans local high schools have put in place:

Jacqueline Coe, the superintendent for the John Stark school district, said it’s been a long and emotional process of emailing, holding meetings, and surveying the community about what graduation should look like. It finally boiled down to a main goal: the class of 2020 wanted to graduate together, even if that meant no guests. 

Working with the guidance of the Department of Health and Human Services, the school decided the ceremony will take place on the football field. Each student will be allowed two guests, who will stand with them in a gridded space distanced from from other families. Arrival and departure times will be staggered to maintain social distancing before and after the ceremony, and afterwards the chief of police will lead the class in a parade in their cars through Weare and Henniker. The three student speakers — the valedictorian, salutatorian, and another chosen by the faculty — will present their speeches at the football field. 

Lauren Zervos, who was chosen to speak by the faculty, said that though this graduation ceremony is “not what (she) was looking forward to” as the last of four children to graduate from John Stark, she is grateful to have a ceremony during the pandemic at all, when some other high schools have opted out of in-person celebrations altogether. 

Zervos plans to speak about how the high school experience has changed since remote learning went into effect in March, and how not being in school in person takes away some of the small moments of connection between fellow students that are so important. 

“There are definitely lessons I’ve learned during remote learning about not taking anything for granted and appreciating what I have when I have it, because it can so easily be swept out from under you,” she said. “I didn’t really realize that before, but now that I’m not in the actual school building, it’s really upsetting, so I just want to make sure that for the rest of my time I want to be able to appreciate things more than I had in the past.” 

Merrimack Valley

Merrimack Valley High School has gone big with plans for their graduation ceremony in the era of social distancing. The entire ceremony will happen with graduates and their families inside their cars— they will start a parade route at the high school, and end at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, where graduates will receive their graduation pins as they roll across the speedway’s finish line. MVHS logos and symbols will decorate signs around the speedway, and graduates will only exit their vehicles for a quick photo opportunity as they exit the stadium. 

“This could be the start of a new tradition,” said SAU 46 Superintendent Mark MacLean. “When restrictions are lifted, perhaps we’ll work with the track on an ongoing basis.” 

MacLean said that in this time of pandemic, many of the traditions that come with the spring of senior year have been interrupted, so it was especially important to make sure that this year’s graduation ceremony would “pay appropriate homage to this class” an

“We want to make sure we pay appropriate homage to this class, and a lot of the traditions that come with the spring part of your senior year have been interrupted for these students and we wanted to make sure to do something to appropriately pay respect to them and their families. We want to make sure that what we do is special and unique and memorable.” 

Concord High School 

Concord High School seniors and their families will celebrate outside at Memorial Field on June 13, but not all as one.

The school has planned three ceremonies based on the three “Commons” Concord High uses for student attendance and other organizational purposes – Commons A, B and C. The first ceremony will start at approximately 9 a.m., the second around 1 p.m. and the third at about 5 p.m.

When students are dropped off at Memorial Field before their ceremony, they will be met by graduation marshals and led to a socially distanced gathering point. They will also be distanced more than six feet apart when they march on to the field, sit for the ceremony and leave.

“It’s the best of a bad situation, to put it bluntly,” Concord Interim Superintendent Frank Bass said. “It’s not a full-blown graduation like folks are used to, but given all the considerations we had to work through we feel this is the best of all possible worlds because we are allowing some parents to be there and we’re  allowing all the students to be there and we’re really happy about that.”

 Bow High School

Administrators at Bow High School have designed a three-part graduation to take place over the week of June 8-13, according to Bow High School Principal Brian O’Connell.

First, each graduate and ten guests will attend a fifteen-minute individual graduation ceremony at the high school where they will receive their diploma in front of their families. Second, graduates will participate in a “rolling ceremony” – a parade of cars – in lieu of the usual “senior walk” in which graduates walked through their old elementary and middle schools to see their old teachers before graduating before arriving at the high school. Finally, an outdoor ceremony at Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester is being planned, where each student will have up to four guests who will have assigned seating on the field, distanced from other groups. Each student will be recognized individually, and will walk from third base to home plate on the baseball field to represent the traditional walk across the graduation stage. O’Connell said not all the details are nailed down yet – it is “uncharted territory for all of us” – but he is hopeful that the three-part ceremony celebrates the graduates appropriately. 

Next Saturday, when Wilke takes the microphone at graduation, she plans to focus on the unity of her class, which she said has only been strengthened through the challenges presented by coronavirus.

“It’s almost overwhelming the individuality and the passion that my class specifically shows, I’m just so proud of them so I wanted to let them know how happy I was to be a part of that class,” Wilke said. 

Dates and times

Bow High School: 10 a.m. on Saturday June 13, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium 

Hopkinton High School: 4 p.m. on Saturday June 13, George Park 

Merrimack Valley High School: 10 a.m. on Saturday June 13, New Hampshire Motor Speedway 

John Stark Regional High School: 10 a.m. on Saturday June 13, at the football field 

Pembroke Academy: Thursday, July 23, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium 

Pittsfield High School: Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, Date TBD (senior class will choose between June 15, 16, or 21) 

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