The West Haven High School Class of 2020 has had what can be easily described as an unusual senior year. Begun with the mosquito scare of West Nile Virus in late September, the seniors had their last year halted by a pandemic not seen in decades.
From seeing their classmates daily to “distance learning,” the seniors and all students in the city lost the social, athletic and personal components of their scholastic careers. School officials can’t give them the usual pomp and circumstance that accompanies the end of high school, plans are underway to give them as close to that experience as state guidelines will allow.
Graduation is set for a “virtual” ceremony on the night of June 12, according to WHHS Principal Dana Paredes. The pre-recorded ceremony will be shown online to the senior class, and will have the usual “speaking part” of such events, with speeches from the superintendent, Mayor Nancy Rossi, and comments by school officials.
“Parents will receive a link to view it on the 12th,” Paredes said. “Later that night the link will be made public.”
“We are graduating 381 students. Chloe Hummel is the Valedictorian, and Winnie Jiang is the Salutatorian and Class President,” she said.
But the “big moment,” the receiving of diplomas was going to be lost. But some out-of-the-box thinking will give the seniors that moment.
This past Monday, Superintendent of School Neil Cavallaro, Paredes, and Building Committee Chairman Ken Carney showed their plans to the Board on Monday. Earlier that day, meetings with the police, maintenance staff, and Tom McCarthy from Public Works firmed up the logistics.
According to Cavallaro, a “drive-in” ceremony is planned for June 29-30. The superintendent described it like this:
“1. We will be setting up a stage in the student parking lot at the high school.
“ 2. Beginning at the Savin Rock Conference Center, graduates and their families will organize in groups of 30.
“3. The first group will ride in procession to the parking lot and park in front of the stage.
“4. Each student will get out of the car.
“5. Their name will be called. They will walk across the stage in cap and gown and receive a diploma.
“6. A photographer will take their picture.
“7. While the first thirty are parked, the second group will be waiting along Educational Way.
“8. Once the first group exits, through Kelsey Avenue, the second group will pull into the parking lot.
“9. The process will continue.”
“We have scheduled the event over two nights (June 29 and 30) from 4- 7. Since we’ve never done this before, we want to make sure there will be plenty of time,” Cavallaro said. “It’s important to note, that each student is allowed one car, and the only person who can leave the car is the graduate.”
Carney, meanwhile, said that special additions are in the works for the seniors.
“I have met with Gilbane Construction to develop a plan to open the road from Educational Way all the way to Circle Street. This will allow the groups of 30 vehicles to travel during the graduation without having to turn around or compete with incoming vehicle groups,” Carney said. “Two-hundred feet of fencing cover has been ordered that will be placed on the existing fencing in the student parking by the Educational Way entrance. A message of congratulations to the 2020 class will be printed on the fence cover. A 40 foot banner will also be installed on the new admin wing in view of the stage.”
While the plans are different, and try to make the best of the situation, Paredes said the 2020 senior class was remarkable in many ways.
“This is a class I’ll never forget, not only because of these unprecedented circumstances, but because of who they are as individuals and as a class. I hope despite these circumstances, I can give them the ending they deserve,” she said.