Sandwich High School Graduation, June 29, 2020

Savannah Rossomando celebrates after picking up her diploma.

It would take more than a thunderstorm or even a pandemic to keep Sandwich from celebrating the Class of 2020 on its graduation day.

Despite some notable differences—graduates and guests clad in face masks, much more empty space in the stands and the pervasive fragrance of hand sanitizer, to name a few—the Sandwich High School graduation  was as close to a traditional ceremony as possible.

Less than an hour before Monday's ceremony took place, a thunderstorm rolled through the area, but it ended just in time.

While graduates usually wait for their big entrance inside the school building, they awaited the processional while spaced six feet apart outside the school instead. The line of graduates spanned from the roadway along the athletic fields, around the front of the building and then toward the back of the school along the main entrance. Many of them wore a Blue Knights face mask, customized for the occasion.

Some of the graduates were dropped off by their parents at the bus loop, at which point their parents found their assigned parking spaces. Cars were spaced out using every other space to ensure social distancing.

As parents lined up to be checked into the ceremony, Health Agent David B. Mason made his rounds to make sure all of the safety protocols were being followed.

Once inside the Captain Gerald F. DeConto Veterans Memorial Stadium, parents made their way into the stands where they had been assigned a section to sit in. Each graduate was only allowed two tickets this year, and no one was admitted into the stadium without a ticket in hand.

The graduates entered the stadium to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance." Class vice president Maeve Jordan led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, and Sandwich Soul performed the national anthem. Speeches were given by salutatorian Zoe Pace, class president Jacob Swenson and valedictorian Ivan Rudyakov, as well as Superintendent Pamela A. Gould and Principal James M. Mulcahy.

Zoe spoke about how her class has experienced a lot of change in their time in the Sandwich schools and how they were the STEM Academy's first 7th grade class, which makes them the first class to go through all six consecutive grade levels in the building.

Still, despite sometimes being reluctant to go through the changes, she said that they made it through together.

"I'm glad that we had people looking out for us in this time of uncertainty," she said of the "COVID" months leading up to the ceremony. "That being said, I feel like the situation emphasized how resilient our class is."

Dr. Gould began her speech by asking for a moment of silence for former superintendent Peter J. Cannone, who had died on Saturday, June 27. She said that he had been a mentor to her when she began her superintendency.

In speaking about the Class of 2020, Dr. Gould gave a brief history lesson in which she compared several major events that occurred during the lives of those in the "Greatest Generation" to the events of today. Namely, she talked about the 1918 influenza pandemic, the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement.

"It's all sounding very much like history repeating itself," she said.

She said that members of this class have already proven themselves to be activists. Members of this class have been partially or wholly responsible for organizing a walkout to protest gun violence in schools and working to ban single-use plastics in the schools. Members of this class have also held voter registration drives and most recently used the day of their senior parade to raise awareness for Black Lives Matter.

There were several graduates with Black Lives Matter pins affixed to their gowns during the ceremony.

As activists, she said that they are the most respectful activists she has ever seen. Whenever there was an event they wanted to organize or something they wanted to raise awareness about, they always asked permission from the administration in a mature fashion. Dr. Gould said that this only made the administration want to help them more.

She urged them to be the generation that will one day be considered the "Next Great Generation."

Jacob started his speech by performing a short dance that ended with a pratfall. During his speech he joked with his classmates that after his dance, even if they tripped on their way to get their diplomas, it would now be only the second most embarrassing thing to happen that evening.

He covered a number of topics ranging from memories of going through the Sandwich school system to how this year's yearbook was basically an advertisement for the Boardwalk, owing to how many senior photos were all taken there. 

He lamented a bit about getting older and wished that they might return to kindergarten, where their biggest concerns were trying to remember whether or not Pluto was a planet and whether Hannah Montana was actually Miley Cyrus.

He apologized to fellow graduate Nicole Valentine, who he said was being forced to spend her birthday listening to him speak.

Jacob also gave a thank you to Facebook—in particular to the Sandwich Scoop and Sandwich News communities for providing them with endless entertainment and the answers to daily questions such as "Who else's electricity went out?" and "What was that noise I just heard?"

Speaking about the sudden ending of their senior year, Jacob pointed to the ominous date when their world changed.

"Our last day of school was literally Friday the 13th," he said. "If we could make it through a pandemic, we could make it through anything."

As he neared the end of his speech he noted that this was generally the point when he would be expected to divulge some wisdom or inspiration—but to do so, he would need some help from his friends. At this point he burst into a rendition of Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off."

Only class secretary Daniela Gil Veras caught on quickly enough to join in.

"Oh," Jacob said. "Did no one else get the text message about a graduation flash mob?"

Despite the humor throughout his speech, he did end with some serious advice. He urged his classmates to be happy for the things that they have. He said there will be adversity ahead, but these bumps in the road will make them stronger in the long run.

There was a short break between each speaker to allow assistant principal Josh Tarsky to sanitize the microphone.

Class press secretary Evelyn Milburn recognized the class advisors, Elizabeth Donahue and Bryan Taylor, starting with the Fred Rogers quote about looking for the helpers in the world.

Evelyn said that one of her fondest memories was when Mr. Taylor dressed up for the Senior Masquerade as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" author Hunter S. Thompson.

"I'm pretty sure nobody knew who he was supposed to be," she said. "At the end it was explained to me, and I came to conclusion that you can tell just how cool a person is based on their Halloween costume."

Evelyn said that her favorite emails have come from Ms. Donahue, who was always ready to congratulate her on her Knights Theater Company performances or to offer condolences despite a busy work schedule when her dog had died.

"Her beautiful laughter and genuine kindness prove that it is, in fact, possible for someone to be the human embodiment of a ray of sunshine," she said.

When it was valedictorian Ivan Rudyakov's time to speak, he asked the question "How many days are in six years?"

The answer is 2,190 days. He said that this meant that 2,190 days ago the graduates were, at most, 12 years old. The same amount of time before that, they were, at most, six years old. In the other direction, they will be 24 years old and then 30 years old.

He went on to say that it is easy to define the Class of 2020 by the events that have happened this year. However, he said that who they really are is defined by their personalities and characters.

"This is who we are, this is what defines us and makes each of us, as individuals, special," he said. "Not the historical moment we happened to graduate in."

He urged his peers to not let the last 190 days erase what they accomplished during the first 2,000 and said that the time only seemed short because they had grown so much during that time.

Daniela presented the school with the class gift.

"Calling this year wild would be an understatement at this point," she said.

With the pandemic abruptly ending their senior year, the class had extra money in their treasury, since their Senior Week activities would not be taking place. The officers decided that they would use those funds to help out their fellow graduates in the form of paying for graduation fees so that families would not have to worry about the financial impact of graduation in the wake of the pandemic.

"We recognize that this is not the most traditional class gift," she said. "But as you all can know by this point, [these are] not the most traditional circumstances."

Daniela's speech was followed by another performance by Sandwich Soul where they sang "Brave" by Idina Menzel.

Mr. Mulcahy said that he typically garners inspiration for his graduation speech by reflecting on the experiences of the senior class throughout the spring of their senior year. This year, however, there was no spring play, no prom, no spring sports, no class trip and no senior week.

"Tonight I want to remind you to always look on the bright side," he said.

He said that the pandemic has given them the gift of time.

"It shouldn't take a pandemic to prioritize what matters most," he said. "The reality is that sometimes we need to slow down, focus on the simple things and reground ourselves in who we are as people."

Mr. Mulcahy said that he was proud of how the graduates have handled themselves throughout this time and recognized the Class of 2020 as being a group of selfless and unselfish individuals.

Graduates were still called up one by one to receive their diplomas, though instead of being handed the document with a handshake, they picked them up off a table set up on the field.

No one tripped, though there were a handful of cap and sash mishaps.

It was a relatively quiet audience with only one cowbell, which was rung for Samuel J. Hart. There was not a single air horn. The school band was not there to play their usual cacophony of sound when one of their own crossed the stage.

One graduate, Thomas D. Gagnon, had a group of friends who had waited in the woods beside the stadium to scream his name and blast music when he was called. The Sandwich police checked the area following the incident, but it did not appear that anyone was apprehended.

Once all of the graduates had received their diplomas, Jacob Swenson and the other class officers led them in moving their tassels from right to left, signifying the end of their high school careers.

Then, row by row, they exited the stadium as Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" played through the speakers.

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