Dark blue chairs waited for Mashpee Middle-High School’s Class of 2020 graduates on Saturday, July 25, under a grand tent on the school’s stadium field.

A staff member from the Mashpee Public Schools and a Mashpee police officer stood at the school’s entrance. The school’s faculty, graduates and graduates’ family members were the only people permitted at the graduation ceremony.

The bright sun reflected off of the graduates’ Mashpee blue robes and caps as they walked to their designated seats while “Pomp and Circumstance” played.

Family members in masks turned their heads to watch the procession. The majority of students wore blue face masks donned with a large M.

“As we begin this morning’s ceremony please be reminded that safety is our top priority and I respectfully request that all safety protocols are followed both during and after our event,” Mashpee Middle-High School’s Principal Mark Balestracci said.

Hannah Shields, a 2020 graduate, opened the ceremony with her performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Mr. Balestracci wiped off the microphone before graduate and tribe member Dasia Peters delivered a Wampanoag prayer.

Following the prayer, the Red Hawk Singers, led by Cheenulka Pocknett, a Mashpee Middle-High alumnus, performed two songs as tribute to the graduates.

“This is not a typical Mashpee graduation ceremony, and this has not been a typical senior year for each of you. You get to graduate in one of the most memorable years in recent history. And I’m emphasizing the word ‘get.’ People will always remember 2020,” Superintendent Patricia M. DeBoer said during her speech.

“In the words of Winnie-the-Pooh: ‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard’,” Ms. DeBoer said. She then paused, slightly choked up; while shedding a tear she acknowledged that it’s difficult for her to say goodbye to the graduates.

Mr. Balestracci spoke next.

“Today’s ceremony marks more than academic achievement. For our graduates you spent years dreaming about the freedoms and privileges of adulthood, and I’m confident that your education will launch you wherever you want to go or whatever endeavor you choose to undertake,” he said.

Mr. Balestracci reminded graduates they always have a home in Mashpee before introducing Celeste Reynolds, the high school’s nationally recognized teacher of the year and this year’s commencement speaker.

“Little did we know on that March 13th, that we would never be together again in the classroom or even in this building. Looking back at what life was and missing what is gone is difficult,” Ms. Reynolds said. “The poet Robert Frost once said he could sum up everything he learned about life in three words: “It goes on.”

Ms. Reynolds agreed with his sentiment.

“We are sitting here today because of your resiliency,” she said of the graduates.

Ms. Reynolds told graduates they will probably fail more times than they will succeed, but it is important for them never to give up.

“I stand here with hope for the future, even in the middle of a global pandemic,” she said.

Mashpee School Committee Chairman George Schmidt gave his congratulatory remarks to the graduates.

“I leave you with three wishes: May you always try to live your life in the moment, may you always keep your head where your feet are and may you have a successful journey through life,” he said.

Mr. Balestracci then presented the 2020 graduates while they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Unlike a usual graduation ceremony, diplomas were picked up off of a table and there were no handshakes. Only smiling eye contact between faculty and graduates took the place of physical interactions.

Caitlin Boyd, the Class of 2020 valedictorian, addressed her fellow peers, following a long moment of applause after everyone received their diplomas.

“Today is not just a day to celebrate all that you’ve accomplished in the last four years. It’s also a day to look forward. Today is the marker where we will all be moving on into our lives. Whether attending a college, joining the military or starting at a new job, we are all embarking on new journey’s starting today,” she said.

Anna O’Neill, the 2020 class president, gave a farewell address, quoting the same goodbye sentiment from Winnie-the-Pooh.

“As Ms. DeBoer said, how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. To the class of 2020 you are all that something. I wish you all the best,” Ms. O’Neill said.

Keeping with tradition, with Ms. O’Neill still on stage, the graduates moved their tassels from the right side of their caps to the left, signifying their graduation.

The graduates’ blue caps, some blank and some donned with inspirational quotes and future plans, flew up into the warm summer air to commemorate their achievement.

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