Every graduation is a special event, but admittedly, the annual rites of passage tend to blend together for school officials and those in the community after a period of time.
There will, however, be no forgetting Everett’s graduation for the Class of 2020 – the first-ever drive-in graduation that has created a safe, appropriate in-person event that will rely on public health officials and the cooperation of families to stay in their cars and only get out at the appointed times.
Though limited, it will allow for “that” moment – crossing the stage and getting a diploma – that every senior in high school has dreamed of for years.
“We know these are no ideal circumstances and these plans are not what our students might have envisioned, but the goal is to recognize our students,” said Supt. Priya Tahiliani at the School Committee online meeting Monday night.
School Committeeman Marcony Almeida-Barros said he was so proud of the schools for working so hard to provide a memorable event that wasn’t only online. He said graduations are such an amazing time, and while it cannot be at the Stadium, he said planning something in person that was special showed the tenacity of the School Department and the community.
“Graduation is a special moment,” he said. “At the same time, under this pandemic, I feel sad because I understand it’s frustrating to graduate online…Our goal create something that is not online and stays within state guidelines and is something very special for the students…I think it will be unique and Everett is unique in so many circumstances. We were the first to close schools when no one else would…and now we’re once again ahead of the game.”
The drive-in graduation will start at 11 a.m. on June 6 in the Encore Boston Harbor overflow parking lot on Lower Broadway. From 11 a.m. to noon, they will honor members of the National Honor Society and those 14 students heading to the military.
There will be three stages set up for cars to drive-in containing a graduate and their family. Each student will get out of the car and go up to the stage in their cap and gown while the family watches from the car. A photographer will be stationed on each stage at a safe distance to grab a photo of the moment the graduate walks the stage and receives their diploma from a school official. Three cars will be let in at a time to go to the three stages. Once done, the cars will then proceed to several booths where they will get gifts and swag and gift cards of various denominations. That happened through the generous gifts from Everett Bank, Everett residents, Everett Kiwanis and the Everett Rotary Club.
Then they will progress to a photo booth where families will be allowed to get out and have their picture taken and printed for them instantly.
After the photo is received by the family, the cars will exit and the graduation experience will conclude for that student.
Public Health Nurse Sabrina Firicano said the photo booth was one item they were concerned about, and they did altar how it would be done. Particularly, they decided to take the photo, print it over about 45 seconds and then hand it over inside a sealed envelope. That, she said, would prevent families from looking at it on the spot and wanting to re-take it or get out of the vehicles.
Another alteration will be that the actual diplomas will not be given out, but only the diploma covers. The actual diplomas will be mailed to the home at a later date.
“They didn’t want us to do the hand-off, so we were going to leave the diploma on a table and have the student pick it up,” said Tahiliani. “Then we decided to have someone with gloves hand over the diploma cover. It’s really to minimize any type of contamination…We do ask graduates and families also to please stay in their cars.”
The School Department has also contracted to provide transportation to families who do not have their own vehicles or who do not drive. Barros said anyone who needs to have a vehicle to ride in should contact the School Department.
Firicano said the Health Department will be looking at the setup beforehand, and also will be on site during the ceremony to make sure that masks are on hand, gloves and sanitizer.
School Committeewoman Dana Murray praised the Schools for going the extra mile for students, with School Committeeman Frank Parker noting the budget was $25,000 for the regular graduation, but the School Department has stepped up with the help of the community to spend likely double the budget so seniors are appreciated.
“The fact we’re taking the time and the money in the budget for the seniors that have lost so much is so very meaningful,” she said. “It’s been incredible and feels really, really great to be a parent in this community and see the community come around these seniors…I want to thank the School Department for not marginalizing it and it means a lot.”
Said Chair Tom Abruzzese, “I feel you’ve been one step ahead the whole way.”
The graduation will be broadcast online with Facebook, YouTube and on ECTV Cable as well (RCN =13, Comcast = 22).
The order of the drive-in graduation will be alphabetical by last name:
•Noon-1 p.m. – A-D
•1-2 p.m. – E–L
•2-3 p.m. – M-P
•3-4 p.m. – R-Z
To conclude, Tahiliani said that even though there is a drive-in graduation, they are committed to having a real graduation/prom event whenever it becomes possible.
“We are still very much committed to having a senior graduation/prom when restrictions are lifted,” she said. “We know if we waited, we would not have the whole class and we wanted to give all seniors a chance to have this opportunity now. We’ll do it in the winter or next May if we have to. Whenever we can do it, we are committed.”