The Wellesley High School Class of 2020 isn’t going to say goodbye to 13 years of public schooling quietly. The 380 members of the Class of 2020 are going out with an 8-mile car parade that will start at Babson College and wind its way through town before ending at the front doors of WHS. The entire community is invited to the June 6th event that is certain to go down in town history as the biggest pitcher of lemonade to be made from the biggest bumper crop of lemons ever.
The academic year was truncated starting on Friday, March 13, when Wellesley schools closed for what was originally thought to be a two-week period. Students never did get back into the classroom because Gov. Charlie Baker on April 21 ordered all public and private schools in the state closed for the remainder of the school year.
For all Wellesley students and their families, the announcement was ground-shaking. For seniors, the announcement was seismic, since their every landmark moment was now in jeopardy from Prom to awards ceremonies to graduation itself. Since the announcement, school administrators and the WHS Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) have been working on how to best mark the Class of 2020’s passage through the halls, which are now off-limits. The Wellesley Board of Health and other town officials have been part of the graduation discussion as well as we reported last month.
Members of the WHS administration team, the PTSO, and the WHS senior class president held a virtual meeting on May 7th to go over how this year’s unorthodox graduation will look, as well as other ways the graduating seniors can be honored and supported in light of the closure of WHS due to coronavirus concerns. In attendance were Principal Jamie Chisum; Assistant Principal of Phillips House, Drew Kelton; Phillips House Assistant Karen Bognanni; PTSO co-presidents Connie Burton and Andra Jensen; and WHS Class President Ryan Silverstein.
Since Silverstein had to catch English class pretty soon, he reported first to the group on the results of a survey the class officers had put together and emailed to all members of the senior class. Silverstein said 88% of the class responded (311 students in all). The students’ desires are simple. Or they were before coronavirus hit. They want to sit together, hear their names read aloud, walk across the stage, collect their diplomas, and throw their caps in the air. The big takeaway: 92% of the students said they wanted a late-July graduation ceremony even though “we do realize this would look very different with social distancing.”
The feelings and emotions that came up for the class as a whole were encapsulated in the buzzwords celebration, goodbye, closure, friends, and family, Silverstein said.
That said, Silverstein hopped off the call to get to English. “At least his walk to class will be short,” principal Jamie Chisum quipped.
Although a July ceremony may indeed happen, the fact is, the school must award the students their diplomas in June first of all to let them go, and secondly to make graduation official. So school officials and the PTSO, with input from class officers, and in consultation with the Wellesley Police Department, Babson College, and other town entities, have put together a plan.
I love a parade
Students and their families will show up at Babson College’s Trim Parking Lot, which is looking mighty empty these days. That’s where the start of the parade will be staged. “We will meet in the Trim Lot and follow a route that’s long enough for about 1.5 miles of cars to drive a parade route of about eight miles,” Chisum said. “The parade will go through places in town where people who want to watch can find parking, and it will go through some neighborhoods,” he added. The route will be announced once it is determined.
The families will be in the cars with the students so that excited kids won’t be driving. The idea is that the graduates will sit in the passenger seat of the family vehicle, which will probably be decorated within an inch of its life. Then, as the parade moves through town there will be beeping and waving and celebratory yelling.
The parade will end up at the WHS parking lot, which will be filled with faculty members in their cars, as many as can come, there to greet the students. Then the families will one-by-one pull their cars up to the front door of the high school, where Chisum will be waiting in protective gear to hand each student their diploma.
Pomp, under the circumstances
As diplomas are awarded, anticlimactically, families will have to simply drive off into whatever’s next for them. “We can’t have people break the social distancing regulations,” Chisum said. “It won’t be possible for families to stop in the lot. We’ll have people leave after their diploma is awarded.”
As for a July ceremony on the field, Chisum said that idea is on the table, but “there are just too many unknowns right now. “We’re trying to be as nimble as we can. We’re going to try our best to create a traditional graduation ceremony at the end of July. We don’t know what the rules will be at that time.”
“We really see this as a town event, ” Chisum said. “Hopefully people will come out and cheer kids along the route.”
Hopefully? Is he kidding? Every family in town will be out there on June 6th. There will be crying in the streets of Wellesley. I’m crying right now. Students for years to come will feel robbed when they don’t get their very own car parade graduation.
Chisum ended the meeting by saying, “This is my 21st year in the Wellesley Schools and it’s the hardest thing we’ve bumped up against. We’re getting through this together, so let’s keep doing that together. l look forward to seeing everybody in person.”
Caps and gowns & yearbooks & lawn signs
Phillips House Assistant Bognanni reported that the school is waiting for final notification of shipping for graduation regalia. The caps and gowns are in the warehouse and are being packed, but there is no official shipping date yet. “Ideally they’ll be there for the parade,” Bognanni said. Once the deliver arrives at WHS, distribution will be they’ll figured out.
Yearbooks have been printed on time and should arrive at WHS soon. Ideally, the gowns and the yearbooks will be delivered to students at the same time. Families and students will not be permitted to come to WHS for pickup. “We don’t want a lot of people in and out of the building. This is the first time I’ve been here in five weeks,” Chisum said.
PTO co-president Burton let the group know that there is an order in for lawn signs honoring graduates. Once the signs are delivered, volunteers are needed for distribution of the sings. “Families want to celebrate the wonderful years the kids have had.” She also put in a request for donations. Email her at email@example.com to volunteer or learn how to donate.
Prom, no. Award ceremonies, yes
“Prom isn’t something we will be able to do,” Chisum said. He noted that families are talking about doing something non-school sanctioned. So perhaps Prom could end up looking like a private event to which all seniors are invited, akin to Cotillion.
Athletic Director John Brown and his team are currently brainstorming ways to put the athletic banquet together, perhaps as a virtual event. “The hard part about the banquet is there was no spring season,” Chisum said. “How can you pick an athlete of the year when there was no spring season?”
The challenge with an athletic banquet is to address the many issues of fairness and how to be sensitive to all the athletes and teams.
School awards for scholarships, honors, and other awards will be a recorded event. “We’ll lose the personal aspect of being in the auditorium, but the teachers and counselors who nominated the kids can do recorded messages. It will be really meaningful,” Chisum said.
One last farewell
PTO co-president Burton said “The March date was a tough date because kids didn’t know it was going to be their last day. Can they come back for a last day of school?” She noted that many students still have items in their lockers they’d like to retrieve.
Chisum said he has gotten many requests to come into the high school but, “We can’t let kids and families in the building right now period. We’re talking about when kids can come in to get things from a practical side. We’re trying to figure out a last day of school for seniors” just so they can see the inside of the building one last time before they go away. When that might be is to be determined.
“We’re shooting for a series of moments,” Chisum said. “We love these seniors and we want them to have as amazing a spring semester as we can make it.”