CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — The Shenendehowa High School class of 2020 received their diplomas in person from School Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson in a unique and elaborate graduation exercise held on the district’s campus.
Though not the bucolic surroundings found in the usual graduation venue of Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the exercise was a well-planned event that included two sessions, morning and afternoon, a full canopied stage and entry walkway, a professional photographer, live streaming, and multiple big screen JumboTrons where graduates could watch and hear the proceedings with family members as they waited in their vehicles.
Between the two sessions Robinson noted the importance and emotional meaning of crossing a stage to receive a high school diploma after 13 years of hard work.
“It’s something special,” he said. “It demonstrates that there is value to all the hard work they put in. And even more importantly, it’s something they take with them for the rest of their lives.”
Robinson knows the graduates’ situation first hand, his youngest child, Geneive, was part of the senior class.
The 756 graduates in the class were allowed one vehicle per family and given a time when to arrive at a designated campus parking lot. Once there their order in line was established. As the time approached for each section of students to approach the stage the vehicles were allowed to proceed in groups to High School West’s parking lot.
Led by a staff member in a golf cart, the line of vehicles of decorated SUV, vans, convertibles, and pickup trucks entered the lot to the recorded strains of pomp and circumstance. Ever so slowly they edged closer and closer to the horseshoe drive that leads to the school entrance where the stage had been set up.
When each vehicle was within 75 feet of the stage the graduate would exit with face mask on and cap and gown in place. Under a temporary covered walkway and standing at least six feet apart they would wait for their turn to pose for a photograph and then wait for their name to be called before heading on to the stage with face mask removed.
Proud parents would leap from their vehicles for photos of their graduate being handed his or her diploma by Robinson.
The live performances of Shen’s alma mater by the school vocal group, Mostly A Capella, and the processional by the Shenendehowa High School Orchestra had to be prerecorded this year. Also prerecorded were the speeches from High School Principal Ron Agostinoni, Robinson, Valedictorian Kenny Jung and Salutatorian Nicole Cheetham.
All were shown on the JumboTrons.
One of the day’s unrecognized and unheralded events was also missing; the final grouping of the entire graduating class seated before the stage in their caps and gowns. The joy and excitement however, were not.
Most vehicles were filled with multiple family members who could discuss face-to-face with their sons and daughters what they were watching on the big screens. There were a few honks of car horns as a student crossed the stage, one or two portable megaphones, a number of large cutout posters of graduates propped up through sun roofs, and many high pitched shouts of praise.
There were also some very clear “thank-yous” directed at the stage from parents.
The plans for the exercise were highly detailed and very well drawn up. During one rehearsal a group of volunteers from the district Transportation Department along with members of the instructional staff got in their own vehicles and went through the final drive up to time out how long it would take each student to cross the stage, including family photos.
Robinson gave all the credit for the unusual graduation to the district’s administration, its instructional staff, and grounds department.
“I wanted the graduates to have a chance to cross a stage. That was important. I was driving around here one day and saw all the space we had and thought we could do (graduation) here,” he said. “I posed it as a possibility in a meeting and they took it and ran with it and did it all.
"The credit goes to them.”