What graduation celebrations look like for this New York high school senior amid COVID-19

On June 5th 2020, Seniors like Casey Leyden pulled into Valley Central High School and followed signs that read “SENIORS 2020.” Those signs directed seniors to a celebration lane at the school’s “Not So Ordinary Cap & Gown Pick Up Event”.  

The drive-by celebration was put together to ensure that high school seniors of VCHS could collect their graduation cords, cap and gowns, and goodie bags filled with candy.

“It made me feel super special. I had a smile on my face the entire time and it was my first time seeing a lot of my teachers since this whole quarantine started,” says Leyden.

“It definitely sank in that this pandemic has changed everything. We will be known as the Class of COVID-19 in history. I can’t believe that this is how things have to be.”

The event ran from 10:30am-3:30pm with staggered times for Seniors to arrive in their cars to feel celebrated one week ahead of their social distanced drive-through graduation.

Although COVID-19 has taken away any chance of a regular ceremony, the community came together to help honor the students. This including local florist The Secret Garden providing flowers for the students and local bakery Calculated Confections handing out baked treats as well as the Town of Montgomery Police Department, who grilled to provide a grab-and-go BBQ.

Valley Central High School dropped off ‘Class of 2020’ signs on the lawns of all graduating seniors. Photo by: Devin Hance.

Valley Central School District is one of the few schools that hands students their actual diplomas during graduation. The school still plans to do so during their scheduled drive-by.

A social distanced drive-by graduation will take place Thursday June 11th with scheduled time slots that families can sign up for. Photographers will be on-site to capture the memory for graduates.

Students and their families will be asked to arrive in one car by appointment only. Upon arrival, they will stop at the entrance at the school’s football field to be presented with a diploma and opportunity to take their photos via a professional photographer.

“I really hope that by the time August rolls around, we can re-do this whole graduation like it was supposed to originally be. I want to be on our football field next to my classmates, taking group photos and attending BBQs and graduation parties. I never imagined this is how it would all end,” Leyden explains.

If the opportunity presents itself to have proper celebrations, VCHS has some plans in mind.

  • Step 1: Host a celebratory virtual presentation on Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 6PM to recognize all graduates in the Class of 2020.
  • Step 2: Host an official Commencement Ceremony at the High School on August 1, 2020 followed by an All Night Grad celebration adhering to any and all safety guidelines as per the State and local governments.
  • Step 3: If Step 2 is not feasible due to COVID-19 restrictions, then a virtual Commencement Ceremony will be hosted on August 1. 

“Graduation is the event that we all look forward to in order to celebrate all of the hard work of the students and our community. We realize this is both a celebratory and difficult time for everyone involved and that contradiction has been a challenge to manage. We want to thank our students and families for rising to the occasion, along with the entire High School staff and Valley Central community, in supporting each other during this transformational time.” – Valley Central School District Superintendent John Xanthis

With plenty of time at home due to quarantine, seniors like Casey Leyden will have plenty of time to plan their outfits and cap and gown look for the picture-perfect photo.

“I’m not sure what I want to wear for my drive-through graduation yet. I feel like I’m going to have to make it memorable because it feels like I’m going to be capturing history. A senior photo that I’ll most likely show my kids and their kids one day. I’ll be able to tell them I lived through this pandemic during crucial years of my life,” Leyden says.

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