On the night Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School officials met with executives of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society to talk about using the venue as a backup graduation site, we received an email from one of the high school’s distraught students.
In that raw moment, in the middle of May as their senior year had already been interrupted, the person on the other end of the keyboard was disappointed and sad — still holding out hope for the typical graduation experience. In her words, the idea of the drive-in graduation on the fields of the Ag Society property in West Tisbury made her classmates “freak out” to think about.
We understood, of course. No one wants what is going on right now, but we all live with the consequences of a virus that’s insidious and invisible — and for some, deadly.
It’s interrupted our lives in so many ways. Weddings have been put on hold. Family gatherings for milestone birthdays and anniversaries have been canceled. And some of the Island’s signature events are either not happening or have gone virtual.
It’s been a bitter pill to swallow.
After receiving that email, I thought of my own high school graduation, and decided to share that experience with her because, like the class of 2020’s rather unique set of circumstances, my graduation is also one with a memorable story to tell. I’ve shared the story with two members of my extended family, as well — a nephew and a niece who were both seniors ready to graduate before COVID-19 took over. It seemed to help all of them, so I figured I’d share it with a wider audience in the hopes that it will help others, too.
At Plymouth-Carver High School, where I was a senior in 1981, our ceremony was on the football field. In those days, the awards ceremony and the commencement exercises were lumped together, making for a long afternoon.
As we made our way through what seemed like an endless array of scholarships and speeches, it turned darker and darker. Within minutes, the skies opened up, and there was a deluge that sent parents, friends, and graduates scurrying for cover. This was before the days of smartphones and severe weather alerts sent by text message.
A quick announcement urged students who had not yet received their diplomas to go inside the gymnasium. My blue cap and gown was soaked and clinging to my body. Later, I would discover that the blue dye ran onto my white pants and white shirt underneath. (Hey, it was the ’80s, don’t judge me.)
Back inside the gym, I stood in line before one of the school administrators, and he handed me my diploma out of a rain-soaked cardboard box. No screaming cheers from my family and friends as my name was called and I walked across a stage. No handshake from the high school principal. No photographs with my friends and parents afterward, clutching my hard-earned diploma. (We should have taken a photo of the rain-soaked remnants of my cap and gown, but as a moody teenager I probably refused.)
But the memory is as clear as a photograph — one I won’t ever forget, and that I’ve tried to embrace through the years. I’d venture to guess most people don’t remember much from their high school graduations, because those memories get overtaken by life’s other milestones.
This spring and summer, MVRHS school staff and students have been hard at work putting together a ceremony they hope will be meaningful and memorable.
And, on Sunday, the class of 2020 will finally have its day to remember. The pandemic has forced Plan B to become the plan — students will sit socially distant in chairs, and there will be big screens so their parents and families can watch from their cars at this drive-in graduation ceremony.
And, hopefully, unlike the virus, the weather will cooperate.