July/August 2020 Issue
June 14, 2020

Class of 2020: Educators, unions help seniors celebrate important milestone

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
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saranac lake senior celebration
Caption: CELEBRATING SENIORS. Saranac Lake teachers get ready to caravan from the high school parking lot to visit every member the 2020 senior class. Photo via Saranac Lake School District.

World-changing circumstances have emptied crowded auditoriums of eager parents watching their high school or college senior walk down the aisle to the classic “Pomp and Circumstance.”

But in many cases, caps and gowns still prevailed, as did music.

Graduations were held as socially distant drive-by events; on video; with individual appointment times to walk across the stage; and in other creative and pandemic-safe ways boosted by educators, staff and local unions.

In Buffalo, the Class of 2020’s graduation was more meaningful thanks to donations from the Buffalo Teachers Federation, which sponsored virtual graduations airing on local television stations in June and July. BTF donated $15,000 to sponsor the ceremonies, providing each participating school with $500.

“We want to help our students through these challenging times; however, we also want to provide something that our high school graduates can have to remember,” said BTF President Phil Rumore. High schools purchased a half hour or an hour of air time, and each school showcased its own virtual graduation.

Educators from the Washington- Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES formed a graduation caravan from Saratoga to Indian Lake visiting each of the dozen seniors. In each town, a police or fire escort trumpeted the visit; the graduate was presented with a swag bag and a handmade gift by school nurse Myrna Caro. NYSUT Board member Sandie Carner- Shafran, a member of the Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Employees Association, said each graduate received a cap and gown and had their photo taken.

In districts across the state, including Marcellus in Onondaga County, Saranac Lake in the North Country and Rondout Valley in Ulster County, teachers visited every senior student’s home and delivered “Class of 2020” lawn signs, some with photos and names of graduates.

In one Long Island district, students paraded in their cars while members of the Lynbrook TA stood outside the high school. Seniors drove by the lineup of educators, coaches and administrators, who cheered, held balloons and blitzed the air with noisemakers. The event took place at 8:20 p.m., the military equivalent of 20:20.

Social studies teacher Kim Herrmann said some seniors passed by three times. Many of the 220 seniors had their entire families sandwiched into the car.

“During the course of the year you get little bits of love and joy all year. It was like packing that into an hour,” Herrmann said.

In Central New York, members of the Jordan-Elbridge TA joined parents, community members and local police and fire departments to stage parades for seniors in Jordan and in Elbridge. The groups also adopted seniors, putting together baskets and gifts for each member of the graduating class.

In Rockland County, the Clarkstown TA assembled its members in an entourage to visit every senior. The union purchased signs for each of the 700 graduates, and more than 100 teachers, teaching assistants and clerical staff gathered to deliver them.

“Members traveled 4,000 miles,” said Jonathan Wedekind, CTA president. “We celebrated every kid.” Note: As NYSUT United went to press, Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order allowing celebrations of up to 150 people.

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