The virtually held ceremony to celebrate Bourne High School’s graduation was met with mixed reactions on social media, including accusations of a house party resulting in cancellation of the in-person ceremony.
On Saturday, August 1, at 8:30 AM, the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 took place, streamed entirely on Bourne Community Television. The ceremony had some live commentary, but was mostly prerecorded.
Discussions surrounding what graduation would look like began months ago, when the schools first closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. As early as April, ideas were being discussed at Bourne School Committee meetings.
During one meeting in April, district officials talked about the possibility of going for a virtual ceremony. However, members of the senior class were vocal about not loving the idea, so the district returned to the drawing board.
At another meeting later in the month, the idea of a hybrid graduation was floated. That ceremony would have involved graduates lining up in their vehicles to receive diplomas, getting out one graduate at a time to retrieve the document. Parents would have had an opportunity to take a photo of their child in their cap and gown, as well.
The hybrid idea was also not popular with graduates. About half of the graduating class members responded to the idea by saying that they really wanted their graduation to take place on Jackson Field.
In May, the decision was made that the date of graduation would be postponed to August. Principal Amy Cetner said at that time that the students understood that pushing the date back could possibly result in the event not happening due to the pandemic, but decided to take that risk and hold out hope.
“Who are we to stand in the way of hope?” Ms. Cetner had said at the time.
She said at that meeting that even though it would still be a long shot to hold the event in August, school officials were willing to take that shot.
As the date of the ceremony neared, Superintendent Kerri Anne Quinlan-Zhou continued to stay informed about the pandemic and its impact on the local community. She and Health Agent Terri Guarino had maintained close contact.
Still, the district continued to plan for the in-person ceremony. The graduates met in person for graduation rehearsal the weekend before and everything seemed to be a go.
The weekend before the graduation was supposed to happen, Falmouth announced that its ceremony was going to be canceled because of a student exposure to COVID-19. A few days later, Nauset canceled its ceremony, too, citing an abundance of caution.
Dr. Zhou said that by the night of July 28, information had come to her which made it clear that the Bourne High School graduation would not be able to proceed safely. She said she could not elaborate upon what this information was, only that it made it impossible to hold the ceremony in person.
While not ordered by the town, the decision was met with support from Ms. Guarino and Town Administrator Anthony Schiavi.
An announcement was made the next day and by that evening there was a small group of protesters waiting outside the school when the school committee arrived for its scheduled meeting.
The meeting was open to the public through Zoom, but due to occupancy restrictions no members of the public were able to enter the building.
During the meeting, parents of the graduates expressed their anger at the decision.
Parent Jeremy Dodson said the district knew the previous weekend that graduation would be canceled—why else would it have given the students their diplomas at that time?
He went on to call all school officials horrible and said they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Some of his comments were offered live during the public comment segment of the meeting, while others were written into the chat box that is available in Zoom meetings.
While there were angry comments, there were also comments in the chat from other parents and staff thanking the district for putting safety first.
The response to the graduation did not end with the meeting.
Over the next few days, parents took to a town social media website to make their voices heard. Again, some expressed gratitude that the district was being mindful of the health situation, but others started looking for an in-person alternative.
The anger was not helped by the fact that other area schools—namely Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, which is located in Bourne—were still holding their in-person ceremonies.
Ultimately, a parent of a graduate arranged for a small ceremony to take place in Buzzards Bay Park—at the same time as the scheduled virtual ceremony.
When the day arrived, a handful of seniors chose to attend the event in the park.
Several parents returned to social media to criticize the event that the district pulled together in a matter of days with little notice. Some stated that the decision to cancel “sucked” and that the tech school holding its event was a “slap in the face” to the Bourne seniors.
However, some people defended the district, including a graduate who was working late the night before with Ms. Cetner to pull everything together.
The graduate said the cancellation was not fair, but it could have been worse.
When someone lamented that more seniors did not show up to the event at the park, another resident said that there were seniors who might have shown up if they were not embarrassed about the way their parents had been acting since graduation had been canceled.
One resident said the district should have moved ahead with the hybrid ceremony if the in-person version could not work.
Another resident speculated that anything short of a traditional ceremony would have been met with criticism.
Eventually, someone stated that instead of being frustrated with a school system that tried as best it could to have an in-person graduation, people should instead be disappointed in the more than 50 students who were at a Buzzards Bay house party earlier that week. They said the party was broken up by the Bourne police and was a likely culprit for canceling graduation.
There was, in fact, a party on Maple Street on July 27.
“There was a large group of juveniles at the residence,” Bourne Police Lieutenant Brandon Esip said. “While some of those identified were from Bourne, many left immediately upon police arrival and were not able to be identified.”
Lt. Esip also said that comments on social media should be treated as speculation unless made by the person or people responsible for making any decisions.
Additionally, he said that he does not believe the party was a factor in the decision.
Bourne Police Chief Dennis Woodside said that he had a brief conversation with Dr. Zhou before the cancellation was announced and there was no mention of a party in that discussion.
“I strongly doubt that was a factor, even if true,” he said. “Sounds like someone uninformed speculating again, which seems common on social media.”
When asked if the party was a factor, Dr. Zhou did not say definitively one way or the other.
“There were many factors, taken together, that amounted to the cancellation,” she said.