There have been plenty of heartbreaks for students in these unprecedented times, but the loss of the pomp and circumstance of graduation is being keenly felt by the 190 students who are graduating from New Fairfield High School. To ease the pain of it, administrators, staff, and community members have rallied to commemorate the accomplishment.
The big event of graduation will be held in two parts for seniors, with an in-school experience in the late afternoon on Friday, June 12. Students are grouped by last name and will enter the school with no more than four family members in attendance to see the graduate walk across the stage and receive their diploma. After receiving their diplomas, students will have a professional photograph taken to have as a keepsake. Strict safety guidelines with distance and mask protocols are in place for all activities. All staff will be wearing masks for the duration, though the students can opt to remove theirs for the photo. “Planning for graduation was difficult, but I am happy that our plan allows students to come back to their school to receive their diplomas,” said NFHS Principal James D’Amico.
Rather than a formal ceremony in the massive O’Neill Center at WestConn, the NFHS auditorium creates a more intimate experience. In fact, D’Amico said, “I think graduations are more special when you can have the closing ceremony of your high school career at your school.” The ceremony will be streamed live between the hours of 3:45 and 6:15 at https://www.facebook.com/NFHSRebels/ or by typing @nfhsrebels into the Facebook search bar. Viewing plans are in the works for many senior families, with Catherine Bey-Wagner, mom of graduating senior, Claudia, saying “Given the circumstances, I am grateful to be able to see my grad walk across the stage to get her diploma. I’m really sad I won’t be able to see the rest of the 2020 class receive theirs, but I definitely plan on watching the recording that night so I can see this fantastic class receive the honor they all deserve.”
For the second part of graduation, later in the evening of June 12, the families of seniors will participate in a drive-in style event at Squantz Pond State Park. With a movie screen, and audio accessed through FM radio signal, ceremony-goers will celebrate in their cars. Though it’s easy to imagine it would be tempting, they’ve all been asked to stay in their vehicles, and can open windows—cars will be distanced 6-feet apart—but shouldn’t tailgate on hoods, roofs, or bring lawn chairs. A video presentation will begin at 8:30 p.m. and will be simultaneously streamed to YouTube.
Trailer videos were posted to the NFHS Facebook page to help build anticipation for what would be a fun-filled couple of weeks for the seniors, with a parade that’s scheduled to roll through the center of town this Thursday, June 11 at 6:30 p.m; a Senior Day last week at which students were presented with caps, gowns, and gifts; and senior surprises that were given to graduates from other families who “adopted” them in town.
Science Department Chair and Senior Class Adviser, Jean Gephart, explained that “The planning for the 2020 graduation was a team effort. Both the school community and the New Fairfield community came together to help celebrate our seniors. As a Mom of a senior, a teacher, and adviser to the Class of 2020, I couldn’t be more proud to live and work in New Fairfield. We wanted to try to help the seniors know that they are important and that even through social distancing and distance learning that they are being celebrated.” On the same note, Post-Grad Committee members, Kathy Baker and Clare Orloff, expressed delight at pulling off fun experiences for the seniors. “Typically when graduates leave the post grad party they go home with prizes and goodie bags of items that have been donated from businesses and community members so the “surprise a senior” gifts they received took the place of those prizes that they would’ve had from the post grad party,” Orloff said. Baker explained that the post-grad party was all planned, booked, and ready to run when the shutdown happened, but the group pivoted with a great plan that was well-received. Senior Nico Fabrizio-Garcia said he “was happy to receive the gifts from the school.”
In the end, D’Amico says he hopes “that the seniors are able to see the events of the last several months as a call to action. To remember that building human relationships is more important than ever, highlighted by the sense of loss they’ve felt by being apart from friends and family this spring.” He went on to say, “I also hope that these events serve as a call to action to constantly search for the truth, and always do the right thing even when it is the hard thing to do.” D’Amico says to next year’s incoming seniors, whose traditions may be even further disrupted, that the school will “think about the reasons those traditions were important and be creative about keeping the spirit of them alive in new ways.”
By Sarah Opdahl