UTICA — Graduates of the North Fork Class of 2020 disembarked from vehicles one at a time to walk inside the school gym lobby and receive their diplomas Sunday.
As each senior and their family stepped out, another grad and their family walked in.
North Fork’s commencement exercises saw the seniors get in the last visit to their school, collect their diplomas and walk out. As their name was called, they picked up their diploma from a table and walked across a stage set up for the occasion to the applause from school administrators and staff inside, and faculty outside. Then, the graduates got back in their cars and left.
To keep things from getting too crowded at the school, the graduation was held in two sessions, with students last name A-J arriving at 9 a.m. and K-Z at 12:30 p.m. Each student was allowed up to four family members and was encouraged to get everyone in one vehicle.
Landon Hartman was one of the last graduates for the morning session. Before leaving home, he watched the virtual half of the graduation on YouTube that included student speakers and a message from Superintendent Scott Hartley.
“It definitely wasn’t what I expected. It’s what you’d expect for what’s going on right now,” Hartman said. “It doesn’t feel as special as it should.”
The family decided to go toward the end so they wouldn’t have to wait as long in line, Hartman’s mother, Katie Workman, said. She said they have postponed Landon’s graduation party until the situation with the coronavirus subsides.
In the 17-minute YouTube video, Valedictorian Mya Lepley said that under normal circumstances, a valedictorian’s speech might begin with looking forward, and looking back. Instead, she asked her classmates to look at the present.
“We pictured ourselves going to prom, attending pep rallies, finishing off the year with spring sports and having our last day of school together,” Lepley said. “In a perfect world, I’d be giving this speech to my class in person, instead of a microphone and camera.
“But instead of focusing on what could have been, we need to realize that life is short, and make the most of it.”
Salutatorian Jordan Williams also noted the absence of his class together in person for one last time. He said the class deserved a round of applause for what they have been through; breaking in his speech, he held up a sign reading “applaud now.”
“But doing it virtually wouldn’t have the same effect, so…” Williams said, and tossed the sign aside.
Permission for the changing of the tassel was given by Hartley online in the video.
A few students observed graduation traditions themselves; Rese Rauch flipped his tassel to the other side as he got back in the car with his family. Carson Walker released a small bunch of balloons attached to the passenger side of the car as he left. Some students met near the school to take photos in small groups.
Despite there being only family and a few school staff present as she received her diploma, Senior Kaci Willis still felt a little nervous as she crossed the stage.
“I think the graduation (ceremonies) went well besides the fact of everything that’s going on,” Willis said. “At least I was able to walk. That was all I really wanted, to walk.”
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