Oneonta High School senior Katherine Ackley received her diploma from Principal Anne Wolstenholm during the first of three graduation ceremonies this morning on the football field. Rain predicted Saturday – and it did pour – delayed the graduation ceremonies to Sunday; additional storms delayed it until today. At left, Alexander Bitterman delivers his valedictory, summing up the Class of 2020’s final semester: “This whole situation has reminded us of the savage poignancy of being grateful,” he said. “It has given us a unique insight into the shortcomings of technology, and how it does not compare to an actual teacher. Even the best technology only gave us a fraction of what OHS had to offer us.” Two more other ceremonies will be held this afternoon. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Although no graduations are being held at the Unadilla Drive-In, Cooperstown Central borrowed the idea, and families will watch the 2020 Commencement from parked cars at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, June 28.
“It will be a full ceremony, with all the students suited up on the field above,”
said Superintendent Bill Crankshaw.
And when families hear their student’s name over the loudspeaker, they’ll be invited up to present the diploma. “It’s a nice way for families to be involved with their student,” he said.
And that evening at 5 p.m., Project Graduation will host a Parade of Seniors up Main Street, accompanied by the Cooperstown Volunteer Fire Department, passing the photo banners of each of the 75 graduates on lampposts and in the window of the former CVS.
“Usually the lawn of the Fenimore Art Museum is filled with family members, neighbors and friends cheering on the graduates,” said Colleen Donnelly, Project Graduation co-chair. “Because that is not possible with COVID-19, the Parade of Seniors is a way for people to congratulate the Class of 2020 before they head off for college, the workforce and military service.”
Families are encouraged to gather under their student’s banner to facilitate social distancing.
Additionally, Crankshaw said that two private ceremonies were held for students, including Eric Kukenberger, whose mother, Carrie, died of cancer on Monday, June 8.
“She wanted to see her son graduate, and we were glad we were able to do that for the family,” he said.
A ceremony was also held for Mikeeli Hanson, who was due to leave June 25 for the Air Force Academy.
“All of our students are important,” said Crankshaw. “To the extent that we can individualize their experience, we will.”
In Oneonta, three ceremonies will be held – at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. – on the turf field, with students divided according to which guidance counselor they were assigned at the beginning of the year.
“We’ll hold three complete graduation ceremonies to comply with the executive order,” said Superintendent Thomas Brindley. “It’s almost alphabetical.”
Music will be pre-recorded, but speeches, including remarks from Principal Anne Wolstenholme and Valedictorian Alexander Bitterman, will be live.
To remain under state crowd guidelines, students may only have two guests, but those guests will get to participate in the ceremony.
“Having me up there with gloves and a mask, handing them their diploma in a very sterile process didn’t make sense,” he said. “So when we call the graduate’s name, they’ll walk up on stage and their guests will hand them their diploma.”
He continued, “Under these circumstances, parents and guardians have played such a pivotal role in helping them finish this school year. It only seemed right to include those folks who are so important to our students.”
And in addition to their caps and gowns, OHS students will also have the option of sporting matching masks, a gift from the Friends of OHS Class of 2020.
For the last seven weeks, the Friends have been delivering care packages to the high school seniors, including snacks, keychains and coupons to local restaurants. The last package, delivered Monday, June 22, had a teddy bear and an embroidered mask.
“They had their prom, their class trip, the senior brunch, all cancelled,” said school board member Amy Burnsworth. “We were looking for something nice to do for them.”
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special To AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Wendy Kiuber wants to make sure that no Cooperstown senior goes unrecognized.
“As the Governor keeps extending the closures, all the parents of the seniors were just trying to figure out what we could do to support them,” said a school board member and the mother of Lady Hawkeye senior Ashley Kiuber.
She is being helped by Colleen Donnelly, mother of Kate Donnelly, another standout senior on the girls’ basketball team that was headed to the state finals when the COVID-19 state of emergency cut their season short.
After meeting with Emily Additon at The Copy Shop, Kiuber came up with the idea to design yard signs as a show of community support. “We wanted it to be a surprise for the seniors,” she said. “When they came in to pick up their packets for the week, every senior got a sign and a bumper sticker.”
With Governor Cuomo’s announcement Friday, May 1, canceling school for the rest of the year, Superintendent Bill Crankshaw is revisiting plans for the Class of 2020’s prom, graduation and other celebrations.
The seniors have already seen the cancellation of spring sports, state tournaments and more.
“We’re surveying the students and parents on how we want to go forward,” said Crankshaw. “We want them to play a part in creatively celebrating these students.”
Among the ideas being considered is a parade of the graduating seniors through downtown. “We want something that the community could enjoy from a safe distance,” he said.
Crankshaw is also considering a live graduation on the grounds of the school. “That one we have to think through carefully,” he said. “We have to work it out so we’re observing all the rules while still creating positivity.”
Across the county, school superintendents are likewise rethinking graduation in the era of social distancing.
“We’re exploring a lot of options,” said Oneonta Superintendent Thomas Brindley. “Everything we do will have to be informed by state, legal and Department of Health guidelines.”
“I’ve heard of schools doing drive-up graduations, where each student has their five minutes in the spotlight,” said Unatego Superintendent David Richards. “Other places are having the diplomas delivered door-to-door by school bus.”
Richards said he’s also had people locally suggesting using the Unadilla Drive-In as a graduation location, a suggestion he has not entirely ruled out. “We’re exploring multiple options,” he said.
In Oneonta, Brindley is deciding between a scheduled ceremony, where students would show up in small groups, or a virtual ceremony.
“We’d put together the slideshow that we normally show at the Senior Brunch, and all the speeches would be recorded and played,” he said. “We would show each student’s photo and list their awards when they receive their diploma, and at the end, we’d put a tour of the school, since they won’t get to do a last walk-through. It’ll be a keepsake.”