Class of 2020 graduate Steven Darling reaches for the sky from the top of his family's car as he and his classmates, separated since March, prepare to watch the virtual graduation at Castle in the Clouds. (Photo by Elissa Paquette) (click for larger version)
June 27, 2020MOULTONBOROUGH — This year's Kingswood Regional High School graduation was a process. Planning and recording of all the parts necessary to bring people together in celebration for the final graduation event at Castle in the Clouds took place with meticulous planning to create a graduation experience like no other in Kingswood's history. The Covid-19 pandemic was a challenge, but students, their families, faculty and staff were undaunted.
Principal Guy Donnelly said it couldn't have all come together without the support of the families. The week the administration announced that the graduation would be virtual was "very emotional," he said, but they got through it and organized a series of multiple individual experiences designed to form the whole of this important life passage.
Students were scheduled to receive their diplomas in individual ceremonies in front of the Kingswood Arts Center throughout June 12 and 13, a 15-hour endeavor in all, but Prinicipal Guy Donnelly and Governor Wentworth Regional School District Superintendent Kathy Cuddy-Egbert were determined to welcome and honor each of the 173 students, most of whom left with the school closing in March, not to be seen again until this occasion.
Family members and friends drove up and disembarked to hear the calling of their student's name and watch them cross a stage bedecked with the traditional floral spray. The familiar Kingswood Knight metal sculpture stood watch, too, as students walked to the measured pace of Pomp and Circumstance. The people who have watched them grow and mature since childhood smiled, cheered and held their cameras high to record the moment of accomplishment.
Not long before, Donelly and his staff brought caps and gowns to each of the students, and a week later, visted every student's home to take a photo for the grand finale video scheduled for Saturday evening, June 13, at Castle in the Clouds.
A production schedule in the Arts Center, with respect to the CDC guidelines, took advantage of the technological resources and directorial capabilities of Scott Geissler to create the authentic, moving virtual graduation viewed on a 40 foot screen to an audience of the 2020 graduates and their families.
They arrived to the site, speakers blasting, balloons waving, 175 cars in all, for drive in viewing, a "retro" touch commended by commencement speaker Robert Burns, KRHS Music Director.
School Board Chairman Jack Widmer praised the class for the "maturity and grace" they exhibited in handling a senior year that "Isn't what you could have imagined how your senior year would culminate." He told them to "remember what you have overcome. You are a part of history...I've never been prouder to be a part of this district than I am right now."
The top Gold Scholars, who in addition to their academic achievements have contributed 3162 community service hours in all, were highlighted. The number two top Gold Scholar, Janis Walker, urged her peers know what is moral and have the courage to take action for moral reasons.
"Do what is best for the greater good," she said. "Act upon what is needed."
She pointed out that class members kept each other safe for the greater good when they sacrificed physical graduation and encouraged respect for the values of honesty and keeping promises.
Walker closed with, "Help others... we are the future."
Number one Gold Scholar Madeline Ward began her speech with gratitude at finally being together despite all the obstacles and "after the longest and most wide spread case of senioritis." Ward said she and her classmates were "uncertain graduates in uncertain times," but spoke of overcoming adversity as an advantage. She offered a quote from President Abraham Lincoln: "The best way to predict the future is to create it." and exhorted the class of 2020 to view "the future beyond the uncertainty. Venture beyond the horizon."
Burns, introduced warmly by four year music student Anna Smith, said, "If 2020 were a musical, we would call it 'Disaster.' We are all still in the middle of this...and have yet to process and grieve all the little things that connect us that are gone," but he went on to ask his listeners to "take lessons from music, a hub of creativity and inclusiveness, and make the connection between music and the world."
Burns spoke of the story that music tells, the tension (dissonance) before resolution, a metaphor for "the bad times in life that lead us to appreciate the good times." He encouraged them to "enjoy the feast when it arrives, and despair not when faced with times of famine."
In his view, the graduates in their cars out in the big field have "an opportunity to start anew. It's a perfect time to reshape our world... a "more just, more inclusive" world. Burns praised the obstacles his "colleagues handled with such poise." Everyone "stepped up" he said, and he praised the "solid leadership of Kathy Cuddy-Egbert and Guy Donnelly... I am proud to be a teacher at Kingswood."
He then turned the parking lot into a concert of honking cars to a countdown on the big screen. The video concluded with a steady stream of photos of the graduates, as Donnelly called each of their names one last time.