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High Schools Set Grad Plans In Westchester; Will NY Allow July Ceremonies?

AHHS Principal Joseph Engelhardt, Superintendent Marc Baiocco, parent volunteer Lucie Rambaran and AHHS Assistant Principal Jessica Maracallo, assemble lawn signs to adorn the high school front lawn. Photo Credit: Contributed Photo
John Jay High School graduation Photo Credit: Courtesy of Katonah-Lewisboro School District
All 78 members of the Alexander Hamilton High School Class of 2020 have a lawn sign in front of their school, among events the school has planned to recognize the seniors. Photo Credit: Contributed Photo

Signs still pop up on lawns, but around Westchester, car parades are now setting the pac for what high school graduation looks like in 2020. 

New York state senators, however, are hoping for outdoor, in-person ceremonies later in the summer. Several wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week asking for high schools to be allowed to have exactly that — with social distancing  — in July, under guidance set by the NYS Department of Health. 

 “Our students have already had to make tremendous sacrifices due to the coronavirus pandemic," said Senator Shelley B. Mayer, Chair of the Senate Education Committee. "High school graduation is such a special milestone--I believe that we can find a safe way for them to celebrate." 

The letter states, in part, “The high school graduating class of 2020 should be permitted to embrace their achievements, celebrate their successes and be fully recognized as they embark on the next chapter of their lives."

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced last week that in-person high school graduation ceremonies would be allowed in the state beginning July 6.

Meanwhile, Westchester County hopes families and friends will submit videos to create and celebrate a  Virtual Graduation Ceremony for graduating seniors.

"Although the COVID-19 pandemic may have altered High School graduations as we know them, Westchester County Government wants to make sure that all hopes are not dashed for a 2020 graduation ceremony for Westchester County’s seniors," the announcement said.

Community leaders, teachers, parents, grandparents and siblings are being asked to record a short video on their smart phone to say congratulations and best of luck to the high school senior in their lives. The video does not have to be long, and it is an easy way to get the entire community involved in a “virtual” graduation ceremony. The deadline to submit a video here is Saturday, June 6.

Taking a page out of their school yearbook officials at Alexander Hamilton High School in Elmsford found a public way to celebrate the 78 members of its senior class publicly using signs bearing their official senior photos. The signs, also containing  a congratulatory message for each of the students, were put up over the weekend by school officials with the help of a parent-volunteer and are now on display on the school's front lawn for the community to see.

“Graduation wasn’t canceled in 2020," said Superintendent Marc Baiocco who helped erect the display.  "The experience was crafted in response to the current reality of the pandemic and will provide our graduates with an amazing memorable experience they can share together with their family." 

“The lawn signs (recognize) our graduates, while reminding everyone that the class of 2020 endured a great deal of stress," said AHHS Principal Joseph Engelhardt. "Our community celebrates their resilience."

AHHS Assistant Principal Jessica Maracallo and parent volunteer Lucie Rambaran also helped set up the display.

“It has been very difficult watching my son enjoying his senior year with his friends to having the year come to a complete halt,” Rambaran said. “They will miss all the events that seniors look forward to from the beginning of the school year. As the ending of the school year nears, the reality of it all is starting to affect him. He misses his friends and sports.”

The lawn signs are just one of the recognitions the senior graduation committee are planning over the next several weeks, school officials said.

John Jay High School

The John Jay High School Class of 2020 commencement will take place outside in the expansive parking lot of the Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, Principal Steven Siciliano announced.The ceremony will follow the drive-in movie concept so popular for the Class of 2020. Guests will enjoy a large screen presentation of live elements and prerecorded video from their cars and listen on car radios.

The state-of-the-art large LED screen set up is a partnership between Katonah-Lewisboro School District, Somers School District and Bedford School District. All three high schools’ graduations will be taking place Jefferson Valley Mall on June 23. 

John Jay located in Cross River will hold its ceremony in the mall parking lot from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

The venue will allow for traditional elements, such as live speeches from students and staff. It will also include some new twists such as pre-recorded messages and selfies of students in their caps and gowns that will be displayed as their names are announced near the end of the ceremony.

“It will certainly be a different experience than what we’re accustomed to, but we think it will also be meaningful and memorable one,” said Siciliano.

Locking into agreements with the Jefferson Valley Mall, a media company, and two other school districts is the result of a quest Siciliano jokingly calls Operation Lemonade. He and a team of student leaders, counselors, parents, PTO, senior class advisors, operations personnel and administration worked tirelessly to find a way to provide seniors with a graduation ceremony where they could be together.

“And I’m thrilled to report our committee has done just that,” he said.

Fox Lane High School

The Fox Lane High School commencement is set for Tuesday, June 23 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Jefferson Valley Mall lot. The ceremony will be displayed on two large, back-to-back LED screens in the center of the lot with sound transmitted via FM radio frequency. Students and staff will use wireless microphones to deliver their addresses to the graduating class. A recording of the event, produced by professionals, will be available within days of the event and a virtual graduation ceremony will be available at 7 p.m.

On Tuesday, June 9 seniors are invited to the Fox Lane High School campus to pick up their caps and gowns in a pick-up parade from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Campus will be decorated to celebrate the Class of 2020 and a DJ will be on-site to add to the festive atmosphere. Students are encouraged to decorate their cars, honk their horns and show their Fox Lane pride.

Plans for a diploma distribution ceremony will be announced at a later date as we keep an eye on changing guidelines from the state, according to school officials.

Somers High School

The graduation ceremony is set for Tuesday, June 23 at 5 p.m. Leading up to this event, Somers High School has planned activities, including having seniors photos displayed on a digital sign in front of the school building starting Monday, June 1, the school's website says. Then during the week of Monday, June 8, Bright Lights, Small Town, a lighted marquee with "SHS 2020" displayed in the center of town, will publicly honor the seniors. 

Irvington High School

Irvington boasts 143 graduates in the Class of 2020. For graduation, the district has planned a live graduation car parade on Saturday, June 20. Students and their families will start at the Riverfront lot at 10 a.m. and proceed up Main Street and Heritage Hill. The seniors will pick up their diplomas and awards while being cheered on by teachers and staff as they drive by, a school spokesman said.

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