Rutland County high schools plan for isolation graduations

  • By Patrick Mcardle, Gordon Dritschillo and Keith Whitcomb Jr. Staff Writers for the Rutland Herald
  • May 22, 2020

While restrictions are still in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19, high schools in Rutland County are finding ways to recognize the Class of 2020 as they graduate.

About 190 seniors will graduate from Rutland High School, according to Principal Bill Olsen.

“We want to honor the accomplishments of the graduates while following Department of Health and Agency of Education expectations for keeping everyone healthy and safe,” he said.

Olsen said faculty and staff are creating a “virtual”: graduation with the help of a videographer. All of the elements of the graduation, such as speeches, will be recorded in advance of the June 11 graduation. A video with messages from individual teachers is also planned for the event.

“We are also asking students to send us a picture of themselves in their cap and gown, perhaps with family members or friends, and those will be incorporated into a slideshow in the film,” Olsen said.

The high school is providing lawn signs to all the graduates. Business owner Mark Foley is providing space for signs downtown.

The graduation is expected to stream “live” on June 11 at 6 p.m.

Olsen said there has also been discussion of inviting Class of 2020 graduates back for the 2021 graduation so they can be honored then.

West Rutland will hold a “drive-in” ceremony at 7 p.m. on June 5, complete with music and a guest speaker. Each family will be allowed three cars.

“We can only have 10 people out of the cars,” Principal Jay Slenker said.

PEG-TV has been invited and the event, followed by a parade through town, will be streamed on Facebook Live.

“We’re still working out the details,” Slenker said.

Slenker said the class of 2020’s 17-student size makes logistics easier.

Mount St. Joseph Academy is producing a movie for its graduation.

“We’re putting together a video that, when all is said and done, will look just like a live graduation,” Principal Mike Alexander said. “People are doing these drop-off graduations. We just didn’t like it.”

Alexander said students and staff are following all health and safety protocols as they assemble the clips that will go into the film.

“If you take our program for graduation — think of that as the overall storyboard for the video itself,” he said. “You’ve got ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ the entrance of the graduates … the benediction … the national anthem sung by one of our graduates. … All this is being filmed separately.”

Graduates will still get to cross the stage, Alexander said, claim their diplomas, be congratulated by a small group of relatives, and turn their tassels.

The completed film will air of PEG-TV when the graduation originally was scheduled — 6:30 p.m. June 5 —as well as on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Fair Haven Union High School’s graduation ceremony will be at 4 p.m. June 12. It’s also adopted a drive-up method of sending off its seniors.

Principal Jason Rasco said seniors voted on several available options and chose this one.

Graduates will come to the school in vehicles. One vehicle is allowed per graduate, said Rasco. Once they park in designated spots, they’ll be able to view a prerecorded set of speeches on a mobile device. After that, their names will be called one-by-one. When a graduate’s name is called, they can get out of their vehicle while wearing their cap, gown and a face mask, and go up to a stage to receive their diploma in a bag. Rasco said between graduates and volunteers there won’t be more than 10 people outside a vehicle at any given time. As graduates drive away, they’ll pass their teachers all parked in their vehicles honking horns.

“It’ll be a nice touch where we can meet the kids, do at least a piece that is personal and in-person to the best of our ability while maintaining safety,” said Rasco.

Mill River Union High School’s graduation will be completely online, said Principal Tyler Weideman.

The normal musical numbers and speeches will be prerecorded and spliced into one video, said Weideman. Graduating seniors are also recording themselves in their caps and gowns flipping their tassels. These will be edited into the graduation video and shown when a graduate’s name is mentioned.

The video will be posted to the school’s social media pages on June 10 and aired on PEG-TV. Weideman said it will be uploaded between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., around the time the traditional ceremony would take place.

“For a drive-up thing, the parameters the governor put on that would be far too restrictive, and even before he put those parameters on it we didn’t think it was the best idea to have people congregating in that form,” said Weideman. “It’s not what we wanted to do, but with the parameters we have, it’s the safest thing for our community. I’m the first person who would want to do a traditional ceremony if we could.”

Otter Valley Union High School’s graduation will involve some mixture of online and drive-up, said Jeanne Collins, superintendent of Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, on Thursday. The details are being worked out by students and the administration. Graduation is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. June 13.

Stafford Technical Center students graduate as members of the senior class of their sending high schools but Melissa Connor, director of Stafford, said they host an awards night every year.

This year’s event will be recorded in advance. It will go live June 5, the date that was scheduled for the awards event. Students will get a link to the video and Connor said Stafford staff will post it to the school’s social media sites and its website.

The video will have an address from the keynote speaker, the announcement of awards and recognition of all the about 80 seniors from the Class of 2020.

Joe DeBonis, principal at Poultney High School, said this year’s graduation, scheduled for June 12, will be a drive-in event. Participants will start at the high school and parade down Main Street through town to the elementary school.

Each of the almost 30 graduates will be allowed three vehicles per family.

At the ceremony, there will be a stage from which the valedictorian and salutatorian will give speeches and awards will be announced. The graduates will be called up one at a time to pick up their diplomas and any awards they’ve received, DeBonis said.

A Poultney graduate has been hired to take photos of the students as they graduate, so family members can maintain their distance but still get an individual graduation photo.

“Best of both worlds is what we can do right now. Keep everybody safe but also have the kids get up and walk across the stage and receive a diploma. I’ll announce their names, put the diploma on the table, step back and the kids can walk up and grab their diploma,” DeBonis said.

For the 17 graduates at Proctor High School, graduation is set for 10 a.m. June 6.

Phyllis Currao, director of school counseling for the high school, said, “We have a pretty good plan in place.”

On Wednesday, school staff made an event of students picking up their caps and gowns with lunch, music and balloons. For safety reasons, students were admitted for 15 minutes and school staff wore masks and sanitized the tables where the caps and gowns were located.

Like other small high schools, Proctor will have a drive-in graduation. Each student will be allowed three cars at the event. Currao pointed out the graduating class is small enough, at 16 participants, to have three vehicles each.

One student is graduating from an alternate program and won’t be part of the June 6 graduation.

The vehicles will parade through downtown to the high school where there will be a stage near the baseball field. Graduates will be called from their vehicle to the stage to receive a diploma.

Christopher Sell, the principal, will be on the stage but won’t hand the diplomas to students as a further safety measure.

There will be no guest speaker at the event, but the speaker is being asked to record a video that will be part of the livestream of the graduation. The valedictorian and salutatorian will each give a speech. Currao said school officials want to keep the ceremony short in case of inclement weather or a hot day because the attendees will be in their vehicles the whole time.

A song, selected by the student, will be playing as each student approaches the stage. A photographer will get a photo of each graduate as they pick up their diploma.