Wellesley High School’s Class of 2020 was forced to forfeit many traditional activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but students and their families are still urging the town’s public school system to reconsider allowing an in-person graduation ceremony. They point to other nearby schools, including Natick High, that are proceeding with outdoor graduation ceremonies adhering to state guidelines.
Wellesley High students appreciated the town’s huge turnout for the Class of 2020 car parade, after which graduates got their degrees in a drive-by procession at the school. But students collectively sent a letter to Supt. David Lussier urging the town to reconsider allowing a more formal traditional graduation ceremony as well that would include speeches, awards, etc.
Hopes that the July 31 ceremony might still happen—including for those who have worked summer plans around that date—were initially quashed during a School Committee meeting earlier this month following a Board of Health recommendation. Wellesley High School Principal Jamie Chisum then reconfirmed that in a memo issued on Friday, July 24.
I know this is a communication many of you have been waiting for a long time. I am writing today to announce that out of an abundance of caution we have made the decision not to hold an in person graduation ceremony on July 31st as we had hoped. We looked at a number of different scenarios, including going so far as trying to limit participation to just the graduates and a small group of school personnel. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t guarantee the safety of the event for the community and that had to be our top priority despite how disappointing this news is to receive.
We will instead be producing a video production with the key components of that event to push out to you. In that video we will name the Teacher of the Year, the two senior cup winners, and it will include several speeches from staff and students.
I want to say public thank you to the class of 2020 officers who have worked tirelessly on behalf of their classmates to try to find a way to make this work. Their commitment exemplifies the character this class has shown during the entire pandemic.
Please be safe and well.
This video consolation prize isn’t enough for those who want an in-person event. Parents responded to Dr. Chisum’s message on Friday requesting more explanation and possible reconsideration.
More than a week earlier, after hearing of the Board of Health recommendation that an in-person graduation ceremony not be held, Class of 2020 officers quickly drafted a letter. They scrambled to get dozens of student signatures, and fired off the letter to the school administration, outlining proposed safety measures that go beyond those recommended by the state.
Dear Dr. David Lussier:
WE ARE THE CLASS OF 2020. We are the seniors of Wellesley High School. We are WHS athletes, musicians, performers, mathematicians, writers, students. We are future college students and employees.
We understand that the Board of Health has made the recommendation to forgo our planned graduation ceremony, but we hope that you will see it as just that — a recommendation. The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education explicitly laid out guidelines for graduation ceremonies on May 21, stating:
“High school graduations are an important ceremony in the lives of the graduate and their loved ones. High school graduation ceremonies should proceed with the following schedule and guidelines… Ceremonies held beginning July 19 may take place OUTSIDE under the following standards and assuming the public health data supports the continued opening of our state.”
Not only do MA State Guidelines specifically lay out the rules for both a safe and meaningful ceremony — they encourage it. These are recommendations approved by a governor and commonwealth whose decisions have led Massachusetts to “flatten the curve” to a point where we are now averaging fewer than 200 cases per day in a population of 6.8 million people. Our seven-day weighted average testing rate is 1.6 percent positive and still trending downward. While certain states in our nation continue to struggle with COVID-19, through our combined efforts, Massachusetts has become an example for our country. These graduation guidelines exist within that example.
The MA Board of Education knows how much gravity lies within a graduation ceremony and made tough decisions with guidance from health experts to make this possible. The Board understands the emotional toll that months of isolation to help stave off this grave infection have taken on high school seniors like us, who gave up our Senior spring, which we had looked forward to for so long, and who now are facing an extremely curtailed college experience in the fall. Our proposed ceremony lies far within these guidelines (eleven days after the given window, no parents or guests allowed).
We’ve listened to your concerns about congregations and the additional risks of mosquito-borne illnesses, and have the following additional solutions:
- The ceremony will be moved to mid-morning, we propose 9:00 AM
- All students will sign a pledge not to congregate post-graduation
- Graduates will receive a seating map with their assigned seating
- Students will arrive in staggered time frames
- Students will be dismissed by row, alphabetically. Rows will not be able to leave until the previous row has exited the premises
These measures are in addition to those already proposed, including socially distanced seating six feet apart and face mask wearing at all times. We also remind you that we are willing to have this ceremony without our parents present, which is beyond the state’s guidelines and those that many of our neighboring towns are undertaking.
Our Class, since the darkest days of the lockdown, has used the hope to keep us going forward that once the state allowed for it in mid-summer, we could celebrate the completion of our time in the Wellesley Public Schools together, on one field, sitting as a class. We were blown away by the car parade — an event that invited all 28,000 members of the Wellesley community to line Washington Street during Phase 1 of MA reopening — but, out of all the things we sacrificed, the class never let up in our desire to celebrate together. We stayed home and stayed apart for the greater good of our community, state and country. We endured the loss of what was supposed to be the best year of our life. We struggled with our mental health but remained high with hope that we would one day have the ceremony we wished for.
In these trying times, we’ve sacrificed, we’ve stayed home, we’ve done our part. We ask for you, today, to side with the state guidelines. We ask you to reach within your heart and please side with us, your WHS Class of 2020.
WHS Class of 2020
Students’ parents say they got confirmation from the Board of Health that on Friday, July 17 it approved of the amended ceremony plan proposed by students, then parents followed up with School Committee members. Word was that the school system was still not in favor of going ahead with a ceremony, and that was confirmed with Dr. Chisum’s July 24 letter.
I confirmed this with the School Committee on Saturday night.
But with a few more days left before July 31 hits, the Class of 2020 is hoping that might not be the final word.
Stacy Braatz says
I understand that there are more pressing concerns for our schools at the moment, but this one is an easy win. The Board of Health has said yes to the revised graduation plan, the State has said yes, and in fact ENCOURAGES districts to allow for this important rite of passage for the class that has had to give up so many of those. Our superintendent said “no” because the Board of Health initially said “no” but they have changed their recommendation. We thought the ceremony was back on until Friday, one week from the event, so have been given limited time to make our voices heard. It is unclear why our Superintendent will not re-engage on this. Dr. Lussier, PLEASE take a moment to revisit this in light of the Board’s new recommendation.
Our kids only get one shot at a high school graduation. They can’t ever get that experience back. We’ve had to tell them no for so many things, for the greater good of public health – no prom, no sports, no school, no senior projects, no concerts, no all night party, no hanging out with friends, no moving into your college dorm, no college roommate…. They’ve accepted all these “no’s” with an amazing amount of grace, resilience and understanding. But, this one should be an easy “yes” and would go along way towards boosting morale, getting back some semblance of normalcy, and leaving WPS on a positive note.
Sitting in a chair, on a field, wearing a mask, six feet away from your classmate – there is as close to a zero chance of transmission as we can get. They see their peers in neighboring towns being allowed to do this. They see people allowed to get haircuts, massages, go out to eat, waiting in long lines at Truly’s for ice cream, attend summer day camps, but they are told “no” to this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s hard to see the rationale behind that ‘no”. It is well within state guidelines, and our state is pretty conservative on this stuff and has done an admirable job of managing the spread of this disease. DESE has said it’s not only OK, but encouraged. Our surrounding towns have are having events WITH families. Here was one easy, slam dunk “Yes” we could give our kids. They (and us, their parents) were blindsided by this decision after months of planning for a July 31 in-person graduation and seeing Massachusetts move safely through it’s reopening phases and keep cases under control. Dr. Chisum and his staff at WHS have put in hours of work to plan this event, and they, too, could use a celebration and some levity in these dark times. We really owe them better than this.
Why can’t we pull together and make this happen? The class officers have addressed the concerns raised by the Board of Health, including moving the ceremony to the morning, despite the fact that little league games and outdoor movies go on in the evenings all summer, but no one will engage with them and hear their pleas to reverse this decision in light of the concessions made. Please encourage the Superintendent to a moment to reconsider this decision. Email him, the Board of Health, the School Committee (though this is out of their purview, they could pass on this message to Dr. Lussier) We are running out of time to make this right. We need to do the right thing for these students and staff. There is so much mental health risk being traded off for extremely low physical health risk.
Marie Brown says
My grandson graduated from Xaverian High School yesterday. At the outdoor ceremony, witnessed only by certain faculty and administrators, parents, siblings and graduates—it was moving and right and safe. Please reconsider and give our Wellesley graduates this gift.
KellyAnne Angelo says
The Class of 2020 deserves a Graduation Ceremony, they worked hard for it and had all their Senior activities that lead up to graduation taken away. I don’t understand why they can’t have a real Graduation Ceremony just about every other town that has requested the Ceremony has had them. I know I would love to see a certain Senior graduate it would mean a lot to and to her.
Lisa Sheeler says
It has never been easy to be in school administration and meet the needs and wants of many groups. The school system has a month to remake in person and create virtual school for thousands of kids from preschool to high school – and be ready to modify the plans. I wish them the best in accomplishing this significant task.