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Local seniors graduate amid pandemic

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

Graduating seniors around the country have watched as traditional celebrations, graduations, and even their final days of school have been cancelled as a result of COVID-19. But like everyone, they have grieved, persevered, and created new ways to celebrate amid the ongoing situation. It is no different in Hometown Weekly's communities.

2020 marks the 146th graduating class of Walpole High School. Of course, this year's circumstances were a bit different than those prior. Walpole High School Principal Stephen Imbusch recognizes the enormous list of senior traditions and events that seem to have been swiped away with the wave of the COVID crisis. "The last few months of senior year are meant to be a time when students enjoy being at school with one another before they commence the next stage of their lives. So many high school events - prom, senior dinner, senior picnic, Film Festival, Dance Company, spring drama, spring sports, spring concerts, Pops Night, NHS induction, Awards Nights, etc. have been ripped away from these kids," says Imbusch. "They were robbed of so many things. However, they are superb human beings, and they have handled this disruption to their lives with dignity and with the resolve that I have come to expect from the class of 2020."

With all of these cancellations and postponements, Imbusch and the rest of the Walpole High School administration are dedicated to giving these seniors at least one promised celebration they can look back on. "We have a plan to run a graduation ceremony on June 7 so that no student misses the event. It will be a mixture of pre-recording, a live drive-through conferring of diplomas, and a car parade through the Town of Walpole," says Imbusch. 

While school did not end on the note they hoped it would, Imbusch hopes students will remember that they are ready for their next step in life. "This pandemic does not define you. You are a wonderful class, who have proved yourselves many times over throughout your time at Walpole High, and you are more than ready to take on the world. Go out there and do great things. I am extremely proud of each and every one of you," he says. 

The 2020 Westwood High School class is also leaving behind a spirited legacy. "The Class of 2020 will be one of my favorites because they were so incredibly school spirited. They would show up in huge numbers to all kinds of games and events - so much so that parents of opposing teams were puzzled. They weren't used to seeing big crowds at athletics events for sports beyond football. That made me proud and was a reflection of their leadership and their school spirit," recalls Principal Sean Bevan. 

With a class filled with so much personality, it's easy to understand the massive disappointment they feel at not being able to finish this year. "They are, understandably, incredibly disappointed. And, I think that that disappointment is different for every senior. For some, the cancellation of prom is a huge loss. For others, losing their senior athletics season is a really big deal, which is not surprising," says Bevan. "I think that all of the kids look back and realize that, when they left the building on March 12, it never occurred to them that they wouldn't be back for months and months, and well after their final classes and June 7, when graduation was planned for. I think they have a sense of regret that, had they known then that they wouldn't be back, they would have noted that exit as being more of a milestone. But, then, none of us knew then what we know now about how the pandemic would impact major life moments the way it has."

Despite this, Westwood High School's administration is determined to give these kids the full attention they deserve for completing their Westwood education. Currently, graduation is postponed until August 9. If possible, the plan is to have a full traditional graduation. "In the meantime, I am working with a group of 22 seniors and five staff members to think up fun, creative alternatives to some of the senior events they will be missing," explains Bevan.  On Friday, May 22, the Class of 2020 celebrated at their "Senior Drive Out," where they left from the parking lot to celebrate what would have been their final dismissal from Westwood High School.

Medfield’s 2020 class left school on March 13 thinking that they would be taking a short, two-week recess and be back to class as usual shortly after. That, of course, did not happen. 

With a worldwide pandemic, seniors understand why traditional senior events have been cancelled. It doesn’t make it any less disappointing, though. "When you think of all the traditional celebratory events we all get to experience, from all the senior events to whether they were involved in sports to the play getting cancelled to a postponed prom and the All-Night Grad Party. All of these events are so important to seniors. To not be able to experience them the way that we hoped is a huge disappointment," says Medfield High School Principal Robert Parga. "We've been trying to somewhat recreate and reinvent some of these opportunities for them, but it's just so darn hard to get everyone together in a safe way these days, given all the restrictions. It's really limited the chances for them to be together." 

Despite the number of cancellations, the Medfield High School administration is determined to give kids some of the regular traditions, even if they are a bit late. "We are really focused on an in-person graduation on the field, cap and gown, walking across the stage, getting a diploma. We're looking at that some day this summer, and will be announcing a date soon. That is our hope," says Parga. This graduation will come with its restrictions, like limited guests. Prom hasn't been cancelled yet, and will be decided on soon after evaluating what conditions and restrictions will need to be in place. Senior recognition, class day, and year-end award ceremonies have been converted into a video recorded presentation for MedfieldTV.  

While regular traditions have been put on hold, new ones may have popped up in their place. The All-Night Grad Party has been cancelled, but that hasn't stopped the community from celebrating seniors. "They actually channeled those funds into getting gifts for the seniors, and those were surprises that were delivered to students this week," explains Parga. Two weeks ago, 45 teachers and administrators trekked through Medfield and delivered graduation signs to each student. "I think those are the little things we're trying to do and remind the kids that we really care about them and make the best of a crummy situation," says Parga.

This year has definitely been a difficult one for classes of 2020 everywhere. But in our local communities, these students, their teachers, and their loved ones are determined to maintain some semblance of normalcy during this strange time. Who knows what the future will bring, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that these students are ready to take their next steps in life.

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