Capital Region

HS graduation plans start to take shape

From Saratoga Springs' 2020 graduation.

From Saratoga Springs' 2020 graduation.

CAPITAL REGION – Graduation plans for high schools across the Capital Region are starting to take shape now that school district leaders have specific state guidelines to follow.

The plans will vary widely across districts, with smaller districts finding it easier to stay within protocols, but it’s possible mores students get the feel of a traditional graduation this June than they did last year.

Niskayuna district officials this week outlined plans to host a June 23 graduation ceremony at SUNY Schenectady’s sprawling parking lot, with a ceremony agenda similar to how Niskayuna ceremonies have looked in the past. (Last year, the school held a drive-up ceremony, where students waited patiently for their opportunity to jump out of their car and cross the stage for their diploma.)

“The venue will allow us to present an in-person ceremony with our entire Class of 2021 present, accompanied by our faculty and administration,” officials wrote in a Tuesday planning update.

The event will be livestreamed and parents and family members will be allowed to observe the ceremony from special seating areas on the perimeter of the immediate ceremony space that will be reserved for graduates and teachers. The update included the caveat that plans could still change.

The rules, though, still present challenges to districts looking to plan ceremonies.

The Greater Amsterdam School District is working on a plan to host a graduation on June 26 similar to last year: speeches would be streamed virtually in the morning, followed by students picking up their diploma at the auditorium in appointment blocks, giving groups of families the opportunity to attend and snap pictures. 

When pressed by board members Wednesday why district officials weren’t planning to host something on the district’s new turf football field,  Amsterdam Superintendent Rich Ruberti mentioned issues with the field’s warranty if used for a commencement ceremony and noted the district wanted to organize an event that didn’t trigger mass testing requirements.

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake spokespeson Tara Mitchell said high school leaders were “hopeful that the governor will continue to reduce guidelines/restrictions that are currently making a ceremony at SPAC nearly impossible to provide our students and parents with the celebration that we typically provide.” In lieu of those changes, the high school is working on a series of smaller ceremonies at the school, similar to last year’s approach, Mitchell said.  

Other districts are looking to use space on their campuses to host graduation ceremonies. Duanesburg Superintendent James Niedermeier said the high school will celebrate its 48 graduates at an outdoor socially-distanced ceremony on school grounds, with each graduate allowed to bring two guests. The event will also be streamed online for those who can’t attend.

Schoharie Superintendent David Blanchard also said the district is planning for an outdoor in-person ceremony under a large tent, similar to how the district approached last year’s event. Each of the school’s roughly 50 graduates will be allowed to invite two guests.

“We have a very small graduation class so we will be under 200 people and not be required to test or have vaccine information presented,” Blanchard said by email. “If the guidance changes, we will make changes as appropriate.”  

Schalmont is planning an in-person graduation at the high school’s football field with limited guests and following state Health Department precautions like social distancing and mask wearing. The date is set for Friday, June 25 at 6:00 p.m.

Mohonasen is also drawing on graduation plans it put in place last year, when the high school scheduled appointments for students and their family to arrive at the high school for their chance to walk across the auditorium stage. 

Mohonasen Principal Craig Chandler said the plan last year was well received, and school leaders are planning to build on last year given somewhat fewer restrictions in place this year. While the specific details are still in the work, Chandler said students will be able to sign up for a period of time and come with as many family members as they want; each appointment will be open to five students and their families. The appointments will be scheduled in early June, and on June 24 the school plans to hold a ceremony at the Jericho Drive-In, showcasing a video that will include footage from the appointment-based ceremonies at the school auditorium.    

“It was already in our minds, maybe we stumbled onto something that is more meaningful to people,” Chandler said of the positive reactions last year’s graduation format.

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