The Valley Central High School Class of 2020 broke the mold, as they were the first class to have a virtual graduation ceremony on Aug. 1. Due to COVID-19, the original graduation ceremony scheduled for June 26 was rescheduled for Aug. 1 with the hope that restrictions on large group gatherings would be lifted.
A typical VCHS Commencement would have as many as 2,000 people in attendance to celebrate the average graduating class size of 325. Since the early 1990s, the VCHS Graduation has been followed by an All Night Grad Party which also had been rescheduled.
In July it became apparent that restrictions would not be lifted as the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the southern and western states. At that point, the VCHS administration decided to hold a virtual graduation ceremony. The graduation speeches were filmed during the last days of June to create as traditional a graduation ceremony as possible. The virtual graduation was released at 6 p.m. on Aug. 1 and has been uploaded to the district’s YouTube channel and is available on the district webpage as well.
When students found out that their commencement ceremony would be virtual, they reached out to ask for an opportunity to hear their name called and turn their tassel on the VC Commencement stage.
“While there have been so many new and unique events that were created to celebrate these graduates, it broke my heart to hear them ask for something so simple, so I reached out to the high school administration team and asked them to make something happen for these kids,” said Superintendent of Schools John Xanthis.
In a combined effort with the All Night Grad (ANG) Committee, the graduates were provided with one more opportunity to create a lasting memory. Students were invited to make a socially distanced appointment to hear their names called, receive their commencement program, a check from the ANG Committee and commemorative tickets to the ceremony. Students had previously been presented their diplomas in June at a family photo shoot.
The graduates arrived in their cap and gown and were able to remove their mask and walk across the stage and turn their tassel while their family members took photographs and cheered.
In lieu of a traditional graduation ceremony, the VCHS Class of 2020 held a graduation parade down Union Street in the Village of Montgomery. This march was in compliance with New York State guidelines that limit in-person graduations to no more than 150 total people.
“I know we are all very disappointed we couldn’t have a traditional graduation ceremony this year despite the best efforts of our school district,” said VCHS Class of 2020 graduate and valedictorian Kimberly Black. “The district’s hands may be tied but ours are not. It’s time for us to take our future into our own hands.”
This celebration allowed the Class of 2020 to see their fellow classmates one last time before they go their separate ways. Friends and family members cheered for the graduates as they made their way down Union Street. Afterwards they posed for photos with friends and family members, commemorating all of their hard work. Though the graduates would have preferred a traditional graduation ceremony, the parade and turn the tassel events gave them some recognition.
“These graduates have been asked to break the mold and find a different path,” Xanthis said.