High school floats ideas for end-of-year events

Planners look at approaches for graduation and class night.

Dougie Norton, center, and fellow MVRHS graduates cheer on their classmates at awards night at the Tabernacle in 2019. This year's class is working on ways to recognize the Class of 2020.

Class officers from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) were present at Monday’s online school committee meeting to discuss ideas for graduation, class night, and other end-of-year events that are being upended by the ongoing public health crisis.

Senior class president Alex Rego said her class is looking at having an innovative and unique graduation ceremony with a Portuguese speaker on stage and another student speaker to represent a portion of the class that might not normally be highlighted.

Currently, Rego said students are still anticipating having an in-person graduation — what that looks like and when it will happen are more difficult decisions school officials and student planners will have to make. 

“We are still looking to push it back to late in the summer, maybe in late July, before the first senior heads off to college,” Rego said.

According to Rego, students “aren’t too keen” on the idea of pushing graduation off a full year until 2021, nor are they interested in trading their in-person experience for a virtual one, which is one idea that has been floated

As of now, the central backup graduation concept that would take the place of a late-July ceremony, according to Rego, is a drive in graduation with some sort of stage where students can give speeches and project slideshows on a large screen. 

“We have been talking about modifying the in-person ceremony so everyone can be safe. There are various other ways to celebrate, but this is what we are looking at,” Rego said.

The school recently sent out a survey asking students for their opinions on what to do for graduation. Out of the 150 students in the senior class, wellness coordinator and school adjustment counselor Amy Lilavois said 109 students responded to the survey.

“The most important voices on graduation are the kids,” Lilivois said. And to ensure that the survey was as far-reaching as possible, Lilavois said the school broke down the class list into segments and had various class officers reach out to their section of students.

“We want to make sure that every kid has a voice,” she said.

With graduation still so nebulous, Lilavois said the school has ordered caps and gowns which will wait in the front office for a solid plan.

She said Performing Arts Center Director Charlie Esposito is looking into making the possible plan B of a drive-in graduation as epic as possible.

“Charlie is already looking at ways to make this thing like a rock concert,” Lilavois said.

The idea of using the Agricultural Hall grounds as an alternative graduation site was raised, but Lilavois said there is still no way of knowing what the guidance will be from the state and federal government surrounding social distancing in July, or even a week from now.

If the social distancing and gathering restrictions are still in effect by the time a possible graduation rolls around, Lilavois said there are alternatives to a conventional ceremony at the Tabernacle.

“If we could have only kids in the Tabernacle and family and others positioned somewhere outside of it, that could work,” Lilavois said. She  also suggested that the school could live stream the ceremony so students would be the only ones in the Tabernacle (to adhere to the social gathering protocol).

“The one thing kids were adamantly opposed to was some sort of Zoom graduation. It needs to be in person,” Lilavois said. “You could section out kids so you have 20 kids graduating at once, so 20 would graduate one day, and 20 the next day, and so on.”

School adjustment counselor Matt Malowski said “the kids just want to be together.”

He said the school is looking at any possible way to make graduation special for seniors, and identified two different planning processes happening simultaneously: one is planning for the actual graduation, and another is planning a parade or some sort of celebration to honor the kids.

On Tuesday, former First Lady Michelle Obama posted on her Twitter account saying that she and former President Barack Obama would be celebrating the nationwide class of 2020 through a virtual commencement ceremony and address on Youtube. “I know how hard the #Classof2020 has worked to make it to graduation, so @BarackObama and I want to give you the celebration you deserve.”

But graduation isn’t the only event that is being hit by the pandemic. 

Biology teacher at MVRHS, Carrie Fyler, is in charge of planning honors night. She said the planning group is “pretty sure” there will be no in-person event, and they are considering putting together a video with all the awards being given to students. 

“I am moving forward like the event is happening. The National Honors Society is also moving forward with their spring induction,” Fyler said, although what that looks like is not yet clear.

And director of guidance John Fiorito said that planners for class night have been working on contingency plans in place of a full-on event at the Tabernacle.

“There are rumblings of things happening. Class night is historically the Friday before graduation. Not only is this a huge moment for them, it is integral for students to fund their college education,” Fiorito said.

Guidance administrator Jessica Estrella is coordinating the scholarships for this year’s graduating class, and she said a few donors have had to close out their scholarships because they cannot fund them.

“But there are some who have upped their scholarships because they know the challenge students are facing,” Estrella said.