West Springfield finds unique way to honor class of 2020 amid pandemic

May 12, 2020 | Danielle Eaton

WEST SPRINGFIELD – The West Springfield School District has come up with a way to celebrate those graduating in 2020, after the remainder of the school year was canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Will Reichelt, Superintendent Tim Connor and High School Principal Dr. Vito Perrone announced the district’s graduation plans on the morning of May 6 in front of the Big E Coliseum. The graduation ceremony was originally scheduled for June 7 at the coliseum.

However, due to the restrictions on gatherings of 10 people or more and the closure of schools across the Commonwealth, the district was forced to change their plans and the way they’re celebrating the graduating class.

Reichelt explained that graduating seniors finish their academic year on May 29 and will begin senior activities on June 1. The first activity, Reichelt said, will be a virtual class on the night of June 1. Rechielt said seniors will be “receiving their caps, gowns and regalia at the school in preparation for the first activity.”

Perrone said the district has a plan to distribute regalia as students finished their academics. “We’ll bring them into the school on June 1 to collect their Chromebooks and distribute regalia, caps and gowns and any other goodies that we have for them to support them for this celebration,” he said. “We’re going to use the gymnasium, we have a schedule in place that we’re actually using immediately to distribute the locker content we had to clean out of the school. We’re going to use the same plan for the seniors and bring them in by name and we’ll stage people and make sure in the cue that they’re appropriately distanced.”

Reichelt said the virtual class night will be conducted via Zoom. “It will include the announcement of the salutatorian, valedictorian, the presentation acceptance of the class gift and the sharing of senior awards,” he said. The virtual presentation will also be recorded by Channel 15 and “shared with the community at 6 p.m. that evening,” according to Reichelt.

The second activity that will honor graduating seniors and their accomplishments will be a ceremonial walk across the stage at the Coliseum on June 6 and June 7. Perrone said to ensure the safety of students and their families, students would “line up” in their cars and drive through the coliseum.

“What we plan on doing is having the students cue up in the parking lot in their cars and they’ll actually drive into the coliseum. We’re going to set up a stage and we’ll be on the stage appropriately distanced in masks,” Perrone said. “The students will pull in one at a time, get out of the car, come up on the stage, process, we’ll film and take pictures, they’ll get in the car and go out the other side.”

Perrone said each student would get a photo taken with himself, Reichelt and Connor and each student’s walk would be videographed. The video will then be edited together and presented to students at a later time. When asked about students whose families may not have cars Connor said, “We will probably be working with Van Pool, who is one of our transportation companies that we’ve used, to solicit that type of support for families who don’t have vehicles to be sure everybody can participate.”

Reichelt said the graduation committee felt that it was important to mark the weekend of graduation in some way. “The graduation committee felt it was essential to commemorate the original date of graduation for June 7 and offer the students an opportunity to walk across the stage on their weekend in the coliseum at the Big E, which is the traditional venue for West Springfield,” he said.

However, he said based on the input of graduating seniors and their families, “it was determined that a third and final senior activity was necessary.”

“Since over 84 percent of the responses from the graduation committee surveys supported the tradition of graduation, it was determined that it would be held at Clark Field in mid-August,” Reichelt explained.

The third and final senior activity will take place sometime in mid-August at a date that will be determined based on the “permitting of large gatherings in the summer.” The final event in mid-August will resemble a traditional graduation ceremony at Clark Field under the lights.

Perrone said, “One of the things we heard loud and clear from families and students, we did a survey to get their input on what they would like to happen, that was one of the things was a traditional ceremony somewhere somehow.” He continued, “Our plan is to wait until mid-August, hopefully we’ll be able to have the event on Clark Field and we will do everything we can to keep everybody safe and give them an opportunity to celebrate that night under the lights on that place where they’ve enjoyed so much.”

Reichelt said the traditional commencement at Clark Field was dependent “on the directives and guidance from local and state health authorities, including Governor Baker.”

Families were scheduled to receive information and direction from the district in the days following the announcement. Reichelt said, “Our fervent hope is that students will be able to celebrate the initial two phases of commencement 2020 soon and close out their high school careers in August under the lights at Clark Field where so many have competed and performed and cheered for the West Side Terriers.”

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