SKOWHEGAN — Principal Bruce Mochamer confirmed for the school board Thursday night that seniors at Skowhegan Area High School will graduate June 20 at the school.

At the previous board meeting, Mochamer said that based on guidelines set by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, the ceremony would likely be held in August.

Family and friends watch at Skowhegan Area High School on June 9, 2019, as graduates file out of the gymnasium following the commencement ceremony. In response to state guidelines in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, school officials have announced a plan to allow the 160-member Class of 2020 to graduate in small groups of six throughout the day on June 20. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

“Over the last month, the CDC started opening up more, so I got back with the class advisers and class officers and we had a discussion to consider moving up the date,” Mochamer said Thursday night during a meeting aired over the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

“Most schools in the area are staying close to their original date,” Mochamer said. The decision was made to host graduation on Saturday, June 20.

The senior class, with 160 students from Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan, will be brought into the gymnasium in groups of six, beginning at 9 a.m. Students can choose their group of six.

Six families will enter the gymnasium at a time. Each student is allowed to bring six family members, which has been the allotted number in previous years.

To allow for proper social distancing, graduating students and their families will enter the facility through the lobby entrance and exit through the gymnasium. Each group of six graduates will have about 15 minutes in the gymnasium before being ushered out with 24 graduates receiving their diplomas per hour.

Valedictorian and salutatorian speeches will be prerecorded and played in the lobby while students and their families wait to enter the gym. On another screen in the lobby, photos of the seniors will be played on a slideshow.

“This opportunity is designed to bring kids back into the high school, to go back into their gym and walk across the stage,” Mochamer said. “Our community is rich in (school) pride. We are really looking at keeping CDC guidelines and distancing, and trying to make it good for students and their families.”

The event will be livestreamed during the day in the lobby, and graduating students will have a chance to turn their tassels and have their photo taken. After the ceremonies end, a video will be made and posted online for community members to view.

“We know our seniors are being cheated in some aspect,” Mochamer said. “We are trying to make sure we can come back to rituals and the pride of Skowhegan.”

The decision to hold graduation June 20 was made, Mochamer said, after looking at what several other schools in the area are doing.

Board member Jennifer Poirier questioned this rationale, suggesting more should be done for the seniors.

“A lot of parents want to do more,” Poirier said. “I would suggest we add more to this. The seniors have lost so much already. We need to establish something that can get them together — maybe at the (Skowhegan) Fairgrounds, so they can get together one last time.”

Poirier asked for this option to be considered, saying many local businesses and community members would be happy to help make it happen.

“We have a great community that would be more than willing to help us put something on,” Poirier said. “We can get together and do more for our kids.”

Board Chairperson Lynda Quinn acknowledged Poirier’s idea, but said she had concerns about a big celebration given CDC guidelines that discourage people from gathering in large groups during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is not a lot of flexibility here,” Quinn said. “I can’t imagine where we would go from there. It’s heartbreaking, but it is what it is. We have to put a positive spin on this.”

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