SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Unlike any other graduating class before them, this year’s seniors won’t be able run out of school on their last day, bust out their best moves at prom or march together at graduation.
One of the many unfortunate realities of this ongoing pandemic is that we’ve all been forced to rethink the way we celebrate. For seniors at South Kingstown High School, rather than being surrounded by friends, family, teachers and classmates, it’s meant embracing virtual platforms.
This year, seniors will be celebrating their accomplishments via livestream video productions, as well as limited, in-person events, according to High School Principal Chip McGair. Though graduation has not been canceled, it will look very different from years past.
Next Friday, there will be a drive through process for seniors to pick up their caps and gowns at no cost to families. Masks, gloves and other precautions will be taken to ensure there’s limited contact.
Beginning Tuesday, May 26, through Friday, May 29, seniors will be scheduled to arrive at the high school auditorium at specified time, five minutes apart from each other. A photographer will be present to capture the moment, and a videographer will be helping to livestream the ceremony for everyone watching from home, but all the seats in the auditorium itself will be empty.
When each student’s name is announced, they’ll have the choice of walking across the stage alone or with members of their family. They’ll also have the choice of holding up a sign to indicate their post-graduation plans.
The processional route will take students into the building, across the stage, and out, ensure that no one crosses paths. Doors will remain open to avoid commonly touched items, specific times slots will prevent queuing and the diplomas themselves will be mailed home to students. These protocols not only ensure everyone’s safety, according to McGair, but are compliant with the guidelines put out by the Rhode Island Department of Education and Gov. Gina Raimondo.
Speeches for students will likely be taped from home, and the music department has come together remotely to do something special for the big day, but the same level for student involvement for years past isn’t there.
“There wasn’t a lot of freedom that we could really offer to students,” McGair said. “That’s not really the way we like to operate, but we need to make sure everyone’s safe and we’re within the guidelines of the state. That, to us, was the best possible way to get students involved.”
As Superintendent Linda Savastano has already shared, the entire town will also have the chance to honor South Kingstown High School seniors next week with a “Be the Light Night.” On May 20 at 8:20 p.m., the entire town will be encouraged to put on their outdoor lights for 20 minutes and 20 seconds, she said. The hope is that homes, fields and schools are light up in solidarity and celebration.
“It’s a small gesture that we hope brings some smiles to students’ faces,” McGair said.
Other events include a virtual pep rally, scheduled for June 3, to boost students’ spirits and pay tributes to those who won’t be returning to South Kingstown High School in the fall. Two nights of honors ceremonies, one to bestow scholarships and awards, and another to celebrate the accomplishments of students across a wide range of subjects – world language, music and art – as well as student council, call officers and honors society members, will be held.
The Annual Athletic Banquet, however, has already been rescheduled for December, when conditions will hopefully allow everyone to come together.
According to McGair, an event for the following June is also being imagined, though this time around, student will have much involvement in how they they celebrate their “one year reunion.””
School committee member Kate Macinanti, whose daughter is a member of this year’s graduating class at South Kingstown High School, said she appreciates all the effort that’s been made by school administrators.
“It’s very difficult to try and explain to a 17-year-old that what they’ve envisioned for 12 years is not going to be available, and that it’s not a punishment,” Macinanti said. “I have to keep reminding my daughter that this is a pandemic, not a punishment, and that it’s a real risk.”
School Committee Chair Stephanie Canter also echoed Macinanti’s comments of appreciation for the administrative staff, since their likely disappointed by the current situation as well.
“I think you’re doing a great job trying to find some unity and celebration in this, properly honoring their time as South Kingstown students,” Canter said.
Although it’s disappointing that graduation can’t be the event everyone envisioned and looked forward to, school committee member Emily Cummiskey said that “in light of where we are, it looks really great.”
“At the end of the day, it stinks that the kids aren’t getting what they envisioned, but you guys are doing absolutely the best you can to give them the best you can give them in the parameters we’re in,” she said.
“These kids have worked so hard, and their graduation isn’t canceled,” Cummiskey added. “It looks like this plan fully honors what they’ve accomplished.”