This week, lawn signs will begin to pop up around Watertown congratulating the high school’s Class of 2020. This is one way the school has come up with to celebrate the seniors in a year when a normal graduation ceremony and other traditional events will not likely happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
People at the school and the community are trying to come up with other ways to acknowledge the Class of 2020, WHS Principal Shirley Lundberg told the School Committee on Monday night. There may be a car parade of seniors, a specific time when the town applauds the senior class (similar to the celebrations of medical workers), and at some point in the future, perhaps, a live and in-person graduation ceremony.
The last day of class for seniors is May 28, and graduation was scheduled for Friday, June 5. Massachusetts will remain shut down at least through May 18, and it is not clear when the state will begin to open up and what will be allowed when graduation day arrives.
WHS senior Lakshmi Thangaraj, a student representative to the School Committee, said that students are sad to be missing on the traditional senior celebrations, but she the community has shown a lot of love for the seniors.
“Although we missed out on plans we have been looking forward to, we are very thankful for everyone who has been supporting us and helping us,” Thangaraj said.
Lundberg has been meeting with the senior class officers and executive board to get a feeling for how they wanted to approach graduations, and other senior celebrations. Evan Fleischer, a senior and student representative to the School Committee, said that students were united in their wishes for graduation.
“The main goal is to try to have a live graduation some point at Victory Field,” Fleischer said. “It may be difficult given the social distancing, and it is tough not to know what will happen. The goal is to have a live graduation, if possible, and maybe (each student could have) one or two guests. The plan is to broadcast it so other family members, and others, can watch.”
The senior class was polled, and about two-thirds of the students responded. While they preferred a live ceremony, when asked if they would be able to attend, the number of students dropped the father away they got from the original graduation day, Lundberg said.
Senior week also traditionally includes the prom, a trip to Kimball Farm and a barbecue at Victory Field.
“None of those things seem to be able to take place in that time frame. The seniors talked about having one big social event that didn’t have to be connected to the graduation ceremony,” Lundberg said. “At some point they can all come together at a time when most students be in the Watertown area. Maybe winter break next year.”
Lundberg added that she was touched that the students mentioned that they wanted to include the WHS teachers in the event, especially given that this is Teacher Appreciation Week.
A committee is being formed to plan how to handle graduation and other parts of Senior Week. Its members will include five parents, four class officers, five teachers, the principal, assistant principal and the guidance secretary.
One plan is to hold some recognitions for students on the weekend of June 5-7, no matter what social distancing orders allow.
“Definitely in the forefront of our minds, is how we can make that weekend a special weekend, not a weekend that they are sad because it is not the weekend they wanted,” Lundberg said. “Make it a weekend where we acknowledge the great class that they are and their accomplishments on the weekend they were supposed to be able to do that.”
That could include a car parade where seniors dress in their caps and gowns, Lundberg said.
School Committee member Lily Rayman-Read said she liked a suggestion she had heard from the community that Watertown have a salute to the seniors. She suggested it happen at the time when graduation was supposed to start, and people in the community could clap and make noise to “let them know we are here to support them.”
Three different efforts to create lawn signs to put up at the homes of graduating seniors popped up and they were merged into one. The signs should be delivered on Wednesday night, Lundberg said, and she said they will also go up at the other schools and, she hopes, in other public places in the community.
The PTO is asking parents to send in photos of their children to be included in a senior class slideshow, Lunberg said. The PTO also plans to put together a spirit bag, which will be handed out when students return their Chromebooks and textbooks after the last day of classes.
With other traditions, the seniors will have to get more creative. The students told Lundberg they were disappointed that they could not put down duck tape at WHS to mark the number of days left of school. Lundberg said she has seem similar efforts online where students post a photo each day with the number of days of school left on a Facebook page or website.
An online effort that has already started is celebrating the seniors plans for next year.
The Senior Awards ceremony will take place, but will likely be held online.
“We will figure out how we can get awards to to students. We are planning to do a combined athletic, academic, and scholarship awards ceremony,” Lundberg said. “We would probably have to video that. (Athletic Director) Ryan Murphy and I would co-host it, and we would have the coordinators from different departments present different awards from their department.”
Lundberg added that yearbooks will be mailed to seniors at their homes.
School Committee member David Stokes thanked Lundberg and others at the WHS for all they have done to make the best of the situation.
“Having a senior myself, it is a stressful time and a time when I appreciate all the work everyone is doing to make their celebration as special as they are a class.”