DUANESBURG — They wore their masks and sat several feet apart under a tent that had been erected in the outfield of the Duanesburg High School baseball complex that saw no action this spring.
They were happy to be there.
“I knew it would be nice to see everyone one last time,” Duanesburg senior Makenna Todd said soon after moving the tassel on her mortar board from left to right. “I’m glad we had this.”
Duanesburg held its graduation ceremony late Friday afternoon for its senior class of 57 students. Some of them hadn’t seen each other since March when schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, adding even more significance to what was already a special occasion.
“They wanted to do it together,” Duanesburg Principal Jodi Marvin said before the teens made their march toward the big tent where their guests — each was allowed to have two — had already been seated. “We’re making it happen.”
Earlier this month Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Friday would the first day in-person graduation ceremonies could occur in New York as long as they took place outside, restricted attendance to 150 individuals — including students, guests, teachers, administrators and staff — had those individuals wear a mask or face covering, and had them follow social-distancing protocols, including six feet of separation and no physical contact beyond family members.
“One hundred fifty max is all they could do, but it worked out. It was real good having it outside,” Duanesburg senior co-class president Jacob Hoffmann said. “You’ve got to work with what you’ve got.”
Duanesburg graduation ceremonies are traditionally a big to-do, and are usually held in the high school auditorium with a large number of people in attendance. Friday’s ceremony was a much more somber affair, taking about an hour from start to finish. Academic and athletic awards had been distributed beforehand.
“We have 400 [people] typically come,” Marvin said. “Grandparents, parents, uncles, friends. We’re a small community and usually everyone comes.”
“My family from Michigan was planning on coming down,” said Todd, a multi-sport competitor who will be studying nursing at Elmira College. “At least they got to watch it virtually.”
“That’s how we were going to do it at first,” Marvin said of a live-stream that was provided by the school. “Then we were going to have a drive-thru. Then we changed it to this.”
Leading up to the graduation ceremony, the Duanesburg seniors had lost much of their final high school year, including their prom and a group trip to Ocean City in New Jersey.
“It’s necessary to be able to mourn this loss,” Duanesburg valedictorian Domenic Gallo said as part of his send-off speech. “It is just as important to reflect on what we gained.”
This group of Eagles gained, and as a lasting gesture, they gave as well, donating $4,000 of their senior class fund to the Regional Food Bank.
“I would say they are the most spirited, compassionate and caring group of students I have worked with in a long time,” Rebecca Press, Duanesburg’s senior class co-adviser, said at the time of their donation in early May. “For years, they took care of one another. They saw people in a need and it concerned them. They sat down and decided to take care of someone else.”
“We just really wanted to give back to the community at a time like this,” Todd said.
Reach Jim Schiltz at [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.