Ward Melville High School Offers a Social Distancing Commencement Ceremony

Ward Melville High School Offers a Social Distancing Commencement Ceremony

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Ward Melville High School graduates at the 2019 commencement ceremony. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The Three Village Central School District is reimagining graduation.

On May 11, Ward Melville High School seniors and their families were notified that a commencement ceremony of sorts would be held on the school’s grounds in a letter signed by Principal William Bernhard and Assistant Principal Erin Connolly. According to the letter, the decision was made “after careful consideration to the New York State guidelines and the governor’s executive orders.”

Since the traditional outdoor graduation ceremony with hundreds of students and family members cannot be held due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school will hold five separate ceremonies during the week of June 22, and each ceremony will take place with families in their vehicles.

Ceremonies will begin at 5 p.m. with a rendition  of the national anthem and speeches by the school’s salutatorian, valedictorian and the senior class president taking place at each individual commencement. Plans are in the works for the speeches to be live-streamed for viewing and broadcasted on the radio. Students will be divided alphabetically to determine which day they attend.

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, families are allowed only one vehicle and will need to stay in their cars. The letter added that after speeches cars will be directed to pull through the bus circle. Seniors will be allowed to get out of the car one at a time where their name will be announced. They will also be able to pick up their diploma jacket and have a photo taken.

Bernhard and Connolly thanked the students and families for their “patience and support during this extremely challenging time.”

TBR News Media talked to a few people in the community who were positive about
the plans.

Parent Jennifer Catalano said while her daughter, Rachael, is heartbroken that she and her classmates won’t experience a traditional graduation, “she’s happy that they came up with a unique experience for their class.”

Senior Alexarose Marcellino said she thought the plans were better than a virtual ceremony, and she appreciated that the school is making an effort to have the speeches heard every night. She said her parents and siblings plan to decorate their car on the day she can receive her diploma.

Both Marcellino and her mother, Allison, said they are grateful that Bernhard listened to students’ concerns. Allison Marcellino said the principal knew from Zoom meetings and talking to students how important it was for all of them to have an in person graduation and how passionate they were about it.

“They had every faith in him that he would do that for them,” the mother said. “He’s that kind of principal. The kids know that he would go out of his way for them.”

The mother said with the high school having more than 500 seniors she and other parents at first didn’t think it was possible to come up with an alternative plan.

“I really think it’s the best of both worlds because the student gets to walk and receive their diploma, and the closest members of the family get to be there to see their child receive their diploma,” she said. “They actually feel like they got as close to possible to their normal graduation.”

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