AMSTERDAM — Rain in the forecast for Saturday morning forced Amsterdam High School to make a last minute switch to Plan B in distributing diplomas to its class of 2020.
As if there hadn’t been enough changes to this graduation season already.
“It’s unique,” Amsterdam High School Principal Tyrone O’Meally said.
The plan at Amsterdam was to distribute diplomas on a stage set up in the high school parking lot, with graduates getting out of their cars and marching across the stage before returning to their families. Knowing the potential for inclement weather, district officials made backup plans to have the Bert DeRose Theater ready as a potential site.
The decision was left as late as possible, but at 8:30 a.m. Saturday — about 90 minutes before students from the first quarter of the alphabet were due to arrive — the call was made to move things inside, with the stage inside decked out in full purple-and-gold regalia.
Graduates arrived in cap and gown with their families, filled out an index card with their name and received a custom Class of 2020 mask made by classmate Katelynn Demitraszek and her family.
“We planned this two weeks ago. This was Plan B,” O’Meally said. “We had both plans ready to go, and this morning we called it from outside to inside.”
Starting with twin brothers Rein and Kye Desbiens, in a slow, socially-distanced procession each graduate had his or her name called and walked across the stage to receive their diploma from O’Meally while a small group of family moved to a designated photo-taking area. Then, the graduates exited the stage, headed up the aisle, removed their mask for a professional photo and headed out the door.
O’Meally was more than willing to stand at a taped-off mark on the stage for nearly four straight hours as part of an effort to hand out 287 diplomas.
“It’s not perfect,” O’Meally said, “but we were ready, and families got to participate in their child’s ceremony.”
It was part two of Amsterdam’s commencement festivities, which started Friday night with a virtual graduation ceremony streamed on the district’s YouTube page.
Saturday was yet another non-traditional step in what’s been an exceedingly non-traditional year, with students shut out of school buildings since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been on the ride since freshman year,” said senior class president Jake Palczak. “It’s just awesome, seeing the outcome of all of our hard work. Everyone’s perseverance is coming together.”
Katelynn Demitraszek, who has worked with her family to make thousands of face masks during the pandemic, also chose to look at the sunny side of things.
“I think we’re pretty special,” Demitraszek said, “because we’re the first class to ever graduate in the [air conditioning] in the auditorium.”
Amsterdam’s graduation ceremony is traditionally held in the high school gymnasium, though last year’s commencement was moved to Fulton-Montgomery Community College to accommodate more guests.
Pulling off this year’s festivities against the harsh backdrop of COVID-19 took a fair bit more planning and adaptability.
“We’re pleasantly surprised at how it all came together,” said senior class adviser Deanna Palczak. “I think a bunch of us kind of just rallied together and made it happen.”
“There was a lot of creative, last-minute finagling because of the weather,” added fellow class adviser Jessica Lewandowski. “Luckily, we have enough staff here to really back us up and make it all run smoothly.”
Some parts of the change in plans even ended up being a bit serendipitous.
With the decision to move indoors left until early Saturday morning, the stage and tent set up in the parking lot to accommodate the original plans for the ceremony were still in place. The purple-and-gold bunting ended up providing a perfect spot for families to take celebratory photos with graduates after exiting the auditorium.
“We’ve learned to be very flexible,” Lewandowski said. “It’s kind of been that way every step throughout this process.”
Demitraszek was one of the first graduates to cross the stage Saturday morning, but she was proud to know that she’d be a part of every single graduate’s big moment through the masks she and her family created.
“I can say that’s my gift to everyone I graduate with,” she said.
It wasn’t the event they’d planned for or envisioned, but for Amsterdam’s class of 2020, it does offer them a unique position that can’t be taken away.
No one before — and, they hope, no one after — will have a graduation quite like theirs.
“It’ll go down in the history books,” Jake Palczak said. “That’s for sure.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.