October 23, 2021

A different pomp, under the circumstances

Drive-through in Cortland, small groups in Homer for graduations amid COVID-19

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Doug Pasquerella, vice principal of Homer Central High School, adjusts banners of each of the graduating seniors outside Butts Field. The school’s commencement ceremony will be split up to 30 graduates each, so at least they’ll be able to walk in processing past images of their classmates, if not in person.

Doug Pasquerella hung the last banner Thursday and started snipping the zip ties holding it to the chain-link fence outside Butts Field at Homer High School.

Each banner had a photo of a graduating senior, and the plan was for the senior processions — five of them — to pass by their classmates.

“Since they can’t be together, we thought we’d have them walk by,” said Pasquerella, the school’s vice principal.

The coronavirus pandemic means large crowds remain heavily restricted. So auditoriums full of cheering families, stages and risers filled with mortarboard-wearing graduates walking across the stage to receive their diplomas are but a dream for most districts.

Cortland High School’s graduation ceremony June 26 won’t look like it normally would at SUNY Cortland’s Park Center, said eleventh and twelfth-grade Principal John Zarcone CQ’d HIM. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be special for the more than 150 students graduating.

In other districts

Cincinnatus: Plans have been mailed to the families of seniors for their June 27 graduation.

DeRuyter: Graduation will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday at the DeRuyter fairgrounds. Students will line up in cars, get called up individually, be handed their diplomas and get their pictures taken in front of the class’s banner.

McGraw: A small in-person graduation will take place on June 26. Each graduate will be allowed up to four guests. A school employee will be taking graduates’ photos which will be mailed to the students.

Moravia: An in-person graduation will take place June 26 with a rain date of June 27. The event will also be live-streamed on Facebook and will be posted on the district’s web page afterwards. A limited number of guests will be able to attend.

Tully: Plans are still being developed for the district’s June 27 graduation.

Information regarding other districts was not available.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March, concerns were raised that graduating seniors wouldn’t get to have an in-person graduation.

Over the course of three months and with the easing of restrictions for social gatherings, school districts have been allowed to create modified graduation plans that will allow students to graduate in person.

At Cortland, that plan will take the form of a drive-through style, Zarcone said. The class will be split into four sections based on last name, and students will arrive at the high school’s parking lot in their car and line up, he said.

Students can have up to six guests — though they should only be immediate family members or people living in their homes.

One by one, they will pull forward to the school’s auditorium, enter through the stage’s right side door where they will have their names called and pick up their diploma with their family in attendance.

“I feel that we are doing the best we can with the guidelines,” Zarcone said. “I feel it will be special because families are never that close to their graduate at a regular celebration.”

The graduates will then exit the auditorium through the opposite side door to the courtyard where they can have another photo opportunity before getting back into their cars and leaving.

Physical contact — including handshakes and hugs — won’t happen, he said.

“That’s going to be tough for me,” Zarcone said. “Shaking students’ hands and hugging is always an important part of the night but it’s just going to be different this year like many other things.”

At Homer Central High School, students will attend in five groups of 30 at different times on June 27 at the school’s Butts Field, said Principal Douglas VanEtten. Each student will be allowed to bring up to four family members.

Students will sit on the track in front of the bleachers where their families will watch.

The valedictorian, salutatorian, class president and class speaker will give speeches and the event will be live-streamed on the district’s web page and Facebook page.

“I’ve been excited to work with the class of 2020, watch them as they grow and watch them as they head off their future,” he said. “We’re counting on them.”

More information will be mailed to students after Monday.