NEW ALBANY — As the school year comes to a close, it’s not the ending high school seniors were expecting.
But despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, a local school is finding new ways to make graduation special for its class of 29 seniors.
Community Montessori in New Albany will continue with plans to celebrate graduation this Saturday, but it will look different than usual. They won’t gather in a big group for a big ceremony, but the seniors will still receive their diplomas in person during a socially distanced celebration, and the school will honor students’ achievements using digital platforms.
“I think creating a way for the class of 2020 to be lifted up by our community was the No. 1 priority, so we decided not to wait and see what happens but to create something we could do right now,” said Community Montessori Director Barbara Burke Fondren.
On Saturday, seniors will walk to the school entrance one by one at a designated time to pick up their diplomas, and they will be cheered on by teachers and families, who will remain in their vehicles.
A photographer will take pictures of the seniors with their diplomas, and the ceremony will be live-streamed from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the Community Montessori Facebook page.
In addition to the in-person celebration, the school also will release Saturday a graduation video to seniors. The videos will feature personal messages to students from their teachers, as well as messages from school and community leaders who would have spoken at a traditional graduation ceremony.
The video will also feature a compilation of individual students walking in their cap and gowns and tossing their caps in the air. The school has created a Flipgrid to compile video messages and advice to seniors from people in the school community, and the school will be emailing each senior with messages of congratulations.
Community Montessori advisor Hannegan Roseberry has worked with seniors and staff to come up with the game plan for graduation, and she is excited they came up with a creative solution to allow the school community to safely celebrate.
“I’m most excited to get to see them all even from a car at a social distance,” she said. “I’m excited to see them all have the moment they’ve earned and the moment they’ve deserved. For us to be able to say goodbye even in these remarkable circumstances — that closure is going to be meaningful.”
Fondren said she wants seniors to understand what they are capable of, and she encourages them to use their compassion and courage to “take flight.”
“There are lots of learning opportunities that come from this situation, and we are just proud to be part of this leg of their journey, and they’re going to be humbled I’m sure by future success,” she said. “I think during this time of uncertainty, when they walk away with diplomas in hand and pictures with loved ones, it will provide some closure.”
Community Montessori senior Sophia Koto said it was tough knowing that she didn’t know her last Friday of school in March would be the final day of in-person classes of her senior year. In the current situation, it’s hard to find closure and say a proper goodbye to teachers and classmates.
But she knows that the class of 2020 is “much more than a class that graduated during a pandemic,” and she has learned some important lessons over the past couple months.
“Time goes by faster than we think, and we’re all going to come out of this different, whether you’re a senior or a younger student,” she said. “I hope people appreciate school and the education they’re receiving a bit more.”
Although it won’t be the kind of graduation Koto was hoping for, she is happy that the school is proceeding with the event now instead of waiting until late summer, saying it would be hard to go into summer without celebrating graduation.
She is also happy she will be able to see some classmates and teachers in person at Saturday’s ceremony, even if it’s at a distance.
“I do appreciate that they did take the time in figuring out ways we could all feel special and keep our distance and follow rules,” Koto said.
Senior Logan Schmoetzer is disappointed not to have a big ceremony, but he appreciates the opportunity to celebrate in a new way.
“We have fantastic advisors who are allowing us to have a different experience we will remember for the rest of our lives,” he said.
When Schmoetzer heard about the plans for a graduation video, he was disappointed at first, but he later realized the opportunities for creativity and personalization. His grandmother, who has a farm in Salem, had a fun idea for filming him with his cap and gown.
“My grandmother had the idea to film me on the back of a horse,” he said. “That made it feel like an experience I wouldn’t have normally have had if we had a normal graduation.”
Senior Mia Lopp said the past few weeks have been difficult to cope with as she’s been away from her classmates, but she has learned to “take every moment in” and to adapt to the situation.
She had more fun than she expected as she walked down her sidewalk in her cap and gown for the graduation video.
“I walked with the ‘Star Wars’ theme song playing and had a ‘Harry Potter’ wand in hand,” Lopp said. “It was a little cheesy and a little nerdy, but I thought it was fun.”
As graduation approaches, she’s happy to be able to have a type of in-person celebration to mark the occasion.
“I’m happy that we’re not simply receiving our diploma in the mail,” Lopp said. “I actually really like the arrangement — I won’t say I like better than a traditional ceremony, but I like that they tried to figure out what we could do during these times.”