Graduating​​​​​​ during the pandemic​​​​​​

  • Mahar Class President Megan Rich. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Mahar Class Treasurer Jaylynn Eady.

  • Turners Falls High School senior Kaitlyn Miner. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Sam Mackin is graduating from Frontier. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Jordin Hubbard Contributed image

  • Ella Potee

  • Frontier senior Andrew Logan at Frontier. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield High School senior Mackenzie Southwick CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Greenfield High School senior Hailey Younger CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 5/24/2020 3:49:01 PM

When schools first closed in mid-March, seniors across the county weren’t sure when or if they would be returning to classes to finish up their final semester, making for a unique senior year.

“Nothing like this has happened in a long, long time,” said Andrew Logan, 18, a senior at Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in the closure of public and private schools across the state. “Nobody knew what to expect.”

The state’s decision to close schools for the remainder of the year came on April 21. Paired with a state-ordered restriction on gathering size, this meant Logan and his peers wouldn’t be celebrating senior year in the same way past graduating classes celebrated their final year in the district.  

“I was really excited for senior year, almost all of my fellow classmates were as well,” he said, noting a trip to Washington, D.C. with some classmates that he had been particularly excited about.

Across the county, schools have found alternative ways to celebrate their seniors, from virtual commencements to delayed graduation ceremonies at locations that allow students and guests to practice social distancing. Despite the challenges, Logan says he has chosen to remain positive. 

“I’m bummed out that a lot of things I was excited about for senior year were canceled, but there’s opportunity everywhere and we can’t really change anything right now,” he said. “We just have to look forward to all the opportunities that might come for this.”

Colin Hosley, the senior class advisor at Frontier Regional School, said he thinks seniors have gone through a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

“At first, when they were out of school, they were still expecting to go back,” Hosley said. “When the (school closure) news hit, that’s when the snowball of emotions began.” 

Hosley said he hopes seniors remain positive.

“This is an unusual time,” he said. “But time has a habit of passing by, which does eventually help to heal wounds, so they will get through this.”

Sam Mackin, Frontier Regional School

“I was happy at first, just because I was way overloaded with work and I felt that would be a good time to get all of it done,” said Sam Mackin. “But it kind of sunk in the next couple of days that I wouldn’t be seeing my friends and that Coronavirus was a lot more serious than it was being broadcasted over the media.”

Mackin, who plans to study at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the fall, said after a few weeks at home, he began to get frustrated with remote learning.

“They're doing a really good job of teaching us, but it's hard to retain that info if you're not constantly ... going over it daily,” he said.

Ella Potee, Pioneer Valley Regional School

“Especially as a senior, it feels like a huge loss of memory-making time,” Ella Potee said of remote education. “The teachers and staff are doing a great job of making remote learning fun and educational, but it is definitely an unconventional way of completing the semester. I miss my friends, seeing people who I don’t regularly see outside of school, and the teachers. I really took having a strict schedule for granted. Now I don’t even know what day it is.”

The Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield will host a graduation ceremony later this year at the Northfield Drive-In movie theater.

“Honestly, it will probably be even more memorable than if we had a ‘normal’ one,” Potee said. “I love everyone in the Pioneer Valley Class of 2020. We have been through so much together and this experience is just topping it off. I am very impressed with our persistence and optimism through each challenge. I wish my classmates all the luck and joy in the world.” 

Upcoming, “I am committed to Williams College,” Potee said. “They have not reached a final decision yet about (remote learning in) the fall, but there are a lot of ideas in the works, even a hybrid learning method which would involve being on campus with partial online learning … I am currently planning to defer until the fall of 2021 if there is online learning this coming year, and I am hoping to apply for internships and volunteer opportunities with local politicians.”

Jordin Hubbard, Pioneer Valley Regional School

“Learning remotely is a task that no one was prepared for,” Jordin Hubbard said. “However, the staff at Pioneer have worked meticulously to provide assignments and support for the students. … I have been making the senior video and am impressed with how many responses I have gotten from classmates. We have all found a way to stay connected, even through remote education.”

“This has definitely been a big transition for all of us,” Hubbard continued. “I am just starting to adapt to the ‘new normal,’ as well as accept that these needed last few months with my peers will not be able to happen in the traditional way. … I think that the majority of the Class of 2020 wished to have closure by having the infamous senior spring — prom, senior trip, senior prank, etc.”

“On the basis of graduation, the community has exceeded all expectations,” Hubbard said. “Yes, a traditional ceremony is what everyone hoped for. However, these are not traditional times. The fact that we are able to have a big graduation in a unified setting is immense. … The administration and teachers at Pioneer have come together and worked hard for this to happen, which means a lot to all my peers and I. This graduation will certainly be memorable.”

“I am enrolled at the University of Minnesota and, as of now, they are planning on in-person classes, though I have a strong feeling that they will move to a virtual setting,” Hubbard said. “The uncertainty is causing many of us to question whether or not to defer. This is not what anyone planned for or expected for their first year of college, but we are going to have to make the most out of it.”

“My class, in particular, has been through a lot during our six years at Pioneer. We have seen many of our teachers leave, though thankfully some returned. We have had multiple principals, guidance counselors and superintendents. Although our class is quite small, with 40 graduates, we seem to get a lot accomplished together. ... Therefore, even during a difficult time like this, I know that our class will be able to carry on through it. I feel as if our community has truly blossomed and came together this year. One example was the parade that went through the towns in the community. The support that is being given towards all students is really appreciated.”

Megan Rich, Ralph C.Mahar Regional School

“Some people definitely weren’t happy about it,” said Megan Rich, president of the Class of 2020 at the Ralph C Mahar Regional School in Orange of the decision to hold a virtual commencement ceremony. “They’re mad for their own personal reasons. But we had to take into consideration everybody, and not just people with healthy immune systems.”

A ceremony will be recorded by Athol-Orange Community Television (AOTV) on May 26 and aired on May 28. A parade involving the graduates will be held May 29.

Rich will speak at the commencement ceremony and plans to use her time to try to give hope to her classmates and remind them the future will be brighter than it is now. Rich, of Orange, plans to attend Elms College to study communication sciences and disorders. She said she will also pitch on the college’s softball team.

Jaylynn Eady, Ralph C.Mahar Regional School

“There’s no win-win situation,” Class Treasurer Jaylynn Eady said. “You’ve got to just go with the flow. That’s something I’ve learned in all this.”

Eady said having a virtual commencement ceremony makes her the black sheep in the family because her grandparents, parents and older sister all had traditional graduations. Still, she acknowledges the situation is no one’s fault and it is simply the hand dealt to the Class of 2020.

The Athol resident said you can’t please everyone and a typical ceremony also would have upset people due to the potential of exposure to COVID-19. Eady said she and class secretary, Charlotte Torres, are taking answers from graduates about where they expect to be in a decade and the responses will be read at the 10-year anniversary. She said she plans to attend Salem State University to study psychology and music.

Kaitlyn Miner, TurnersFalls High School

“I feel disappointed, but I also feel grateful that my family is happy and healthy,” said Kaitlyn Miner.

Miner, who lives in Montague, said she is planning to have a graduation party later this summer but doesn’t know yet what kind of safety precautions will be necessary. This fall, she will be attending Fitchburg State University, where she also expects to see new safety precautions.

“I see graduating this year as a learning experience,” she said. “No one could have predicted a global pandemic to arise. It just so happens that it happened to our class. I do wish we were able to have a normal end of senior year, but I am very glad we are having a graduation.”

Mia Scott, FranklinCounty Technical School

“I’m going to admit, graduating during the pandemic has been a struggle and has had its disappointments, like our prom being canceled and not having the ideal graduation,” said Mia Scott.

Scott lives in Orange and works at Buckley HealthCare Center in Greenfield. She plans to keep working there after graduating and hopes to attend a college for nursing this fall. She said she expects college in the fall semester to be online.

“I am just keeping my head up and wishing it will all be over soon,” she said.

Benjamin Bardwell, Franklin County Technical School

“I think every senior across the United States can agree that the coronavirus took some part of their senior year away,” said Benjamin Bardwell.

While in high school, Bardwell has also been taking courses at Holyoke Community College, where he plans to continue after graduation to pursue associate degrees in culinary arts and business administration.

“The memories I was looking forward to all got taken away or changed dramatically. Prom, senior trip, senior skip day, class prank all (were) canceled, and graduation utterly different from what was planned. These memories last your whole life.”

Kacia Kinsmith,Greenfield High School

“I’m really happy that the (school district) is working hard to make this nice for us,” Kacia Kinsmith said. “We’ve all worked so hard for so many years. We didn’t expect this. I really miss my friends and teachers.”

Kinsmith says she didn’t get to participate in spring track, which was disappointing, but she’s hoping to do so in college.

Greenfield High School seniors will graduate on the fairgrounds this year. Seniors will only leave their cars to receive their diplomas.

“I’ve been really sad lately,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get a little happier as summer gets closer.”

Kinsmith has been accepted to college in Ithica, New York. 

“I’m going to do track and field, throw the javelin,” she said. “College is starting in October because of COVID-19, not August like it should have been.”

Kinsmith said she knows things are uncertain at this point, and she’s prepared to spend her first semester of college online if she has to.

Mackenzie Southwick, Greenfield High School

“High school was amazing and I had such great support from my best friend, teachers, advisor, everyone,” Mackenzie Southwick said. “I played volleyball for two years and had the best coach. But once COVID hit, it was like a huge stab in the heart.”

The 18-year-old senior said everything was taken away and it didn’t seem real, still doesn’t. 

“It’s been like living in a video game,” she said. “It has taken a toll mentally and emotionally. There’s so much that’s still unknown.”

Southwick said it will make students everywhere graduating in the Class of 2020 stronger.

“We’ve lost so much and still overcome so much,” she said. “This graduation will go down in history.”

Southwick will attend the University of New Hampshire this fall, she hopes.

“I’ll never take anything for granted again,” she said. “We should be carefree young kids. We should be living life to the fullest. We’ve learned that tomorrow is never guaranteed.”

Hailey Younger,Greenfield High School

“When senior year started, it was almost like a dream,” Younger said. “My friends and I were hanging out, going to games, trying to make the most of it, and when we were first told schools were closing for two weeks, we figured it would be a nice break.”

Younger said that quickly changed when they learned that school was closing for the rest of the year.

“We just cried,” she said. “I haven’t gotten to say ‘good-bye’ to my friends, teachers, advisors like I had planned. I want to give hugs and I can’t.”

Younger and her friends plan to decorate the cars they and their families will drive to the fairgrounds to celebrate her graduation.

“Uncertainty is the worst part of this,” she said. “I’ll be going to UMass Amherst this fall. Everything else was taken away from us. I hope that’s not taken, too.”


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