For Paige Ludwig, the biggest challenge of going to school during the pandemic was learning remotely.
“It was weird, but I didn’t want to deal with the masks,” she said Friday.
While the 2020-21 school year featured remote learning — a necessity at times during the COVID-19 pandemic — it finished with Ludwig and her 151 other Cortland High School classmates graduating Friday outside, in-person.
The ceremony at Moiseichik Field marked what Principal John Zarcone said would be a new tradition born out of the pandemic.
Before 2020, the commencement was at the SUNY Cortland Park Center.
However, the college stopped hosting events during the pandemic, and the high school had its 2020 ceremony at its auditorium.
Students lined up in cars in the parking lot, signed their names on a school bus and were directed inside the auditorium to receive their diplomas.
With those changes last year, and even with restrictions easing this year, Zarcone said it was time for a new tradition.
“We felt it was time to change things up,” he said. “The seniors are excited to do this because it’s from their own field.”
As life has been returning to something more resembling the pre-pandemic, so too was the graduation ceremony.
Students were led onto the field through an honor guard of teachers and staff, before taking their seats.
Salutatorian Samantha Engst-Mansilla said the school year had “told us,’No,’ so many times” but despite that, “We’ve all gotten this far and that’s really the important part.”
The pandemic will always be a major part of Kamie Matthewson’s memory of her senior year.
“I think it’s going to affect it somewhat but the memories we have” — especially the caring nature of the school staff — “are worth it,” she said.
Matthewson said her plans after high school include going to Tompkins Cortland Community College and then becoming a social worker.
Adapting to the pandemic was challenging at first, but as time wore on, Collin Williams said he adapted. Williams said he’ll take all the friendships and bonds he’s made with him as he goes to St. John Fisher College.
Superintendent Robert Edwards told graduates and their families that the class of 2021 can be defined by its resilience to learn both in-person and remotely, defined by its creativity through having its first COVID prom this year and spirit.
“In so many ways, you have inspired the adults around you and I hope this experience has inspired you like it has others,” he said.