Caps, gowns, masks: Old Colony holds socially distanced graduation

Jul 19, 2020

ROCHESTER — “This has been one hell of a year to say the least,” Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School Principal Michael Parker said in his welcoming remarks to the Class of 2020 at the school’s first-ever socially distanced graduation ceremony on July 19.

The poignant ceremony marked the end of a school year that saw seniors miss 47 days of in-school learning due to the shutdown of schools because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Instead, seniors sat in Zoom lectures, used special applications to mimic vocational work and made how-to videos that were re-created by instructors.

In lieu of a procession, Dean of Students Gary Linehan read aloud the names of students who stood up to be recognized. They then sat back down in their socially distanced seating arrangements.

The 10 a.m. ceremony in the field inside the school’s track lasted 30 minutes, which worked in favor of attendants who sat in nearly 80 degree weather.

“I love that we’re here in person, but sad to leave Old Colony,” said Valedictorian and Class Treasurer Katherine Ashley. 

In a speech to her fellow classmates, Ashley gave a message of hope for the future. She used a quote from “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” the famous Dr. Seuss children’s book: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go.”

Before the ceremony, Old Colony Superintendent-Director Aaron Polansky said the ceremony “is what our students deserve and so much more.” 

Kayln Swartz is a graduate from the health career program at Old Colony. She said she was “glad we could still have something.”

Her mother, Nicole, said the “school handled everything well” during the pandemic, and she appreciates the extra care administrators took for students.

Roaming around before and after the ceremony, students caught up with one another after being separated for months until only recently.

Ethan Harrop said he is “happy it’s not online.”

Richard Cantwell of Mattapoisett chimed in and said the ceremony is “anticlimactic, but at least it’s happening.”

Of the many cancellations that took place, senior prom was taken off the table due to coronavirus restrictions. The Class of 2020 put that setback to good use and paid for the Class of 2021’s DJ for their senior prom as a gift from the current graduating class.

Many instructors and administrators were also in attendance. 

“They so deserved it, not only for the students, but for the staff,” said Vocational Coordinator Bethany Botelho.

“It was so special after such a difficult time,” said Academic Coordinator Catie Tuccinardi.

In his speech to students, Polansky reflected on the moment when it poured on him while setting up chairs for the ceremony on the previous Friday. In the midst of the storm, he stopped and thought of his staff who was setting up the ceremony alongside him. The moment inspired advice he passed onto seniors.

“We must enjoy the storms, feel the rain, enjoy the company of others, perfect imperfection, and when the storm is over, search for our rainbow. Instead of fearing the next lightning strike, we must find a way to dance in the rain. Your class continues to endure a storm unlike any in the history of Old Colony, and perhaps the world we live in today. Storms will come and they will pass. Find your opportunities to dance in the rain and know there are rainbows waiting.”