Cony High School teacher Jason Morgans hugs every graduate he can before marching into graduation ceremonies June 9, 2019, in Augusta. That won’t be the case this year, as the high school will be conducting three separate ceremonies to ensure people are maintaining safe social distances amid the coronavirus pandemic. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

Cony High School’s graduation will be different this year, but it’s growing — not shrinking — in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Graduation will take place over three days, June 12-14, the same weekend the traditional one-day ceremony was to take place.

Despite concerns about the highly contagious virus and state restrictions on large public gatherings, graduation events will include students being awarded their diplomas in-person, as they walk across the stage in the auditorium at Cony High School while their families look on and snap photographs. Most students haven’t been to the school since classroom instruction ended abruptly due to the virus in March.

The spread-out ceremonies will allow for small groups of graduates and their families to enter the school at assigned times each day. Mask-wearing graduates — and up to five of their family members each — will be screened and have their temperatures taken. If they have normal temperatures and aren’t showing any signs of COVID-19, they will be escorted into Cony.

Anyone showing symptoms will not be admitted into the school, according to Principal Kim Silsby. Graduates and their families will be required to wear masks and maintain safe social distances.

Once the students and their families are inside, the graduate’s name will be called and they’ll walk across the auditorium stage to pick up their diplomas. Their family members will be allowed in the otherwise empty audience section of the auditorium to take photographs as their graduates cross the stage, get their diploma and switch their tassels from one side of their mortar boards to the other. After that, the family group will be escorted back out of the building to make way for the next graduate to do the same. Those proceedings will be recorded.

That will be the only in-person portion of graduation, however, as major changes have been made to the traditional celebratory activities so people won’t be exposed to the coronavirus or gather in groups of more than 50 people.

“It’ll be the closest thing to a traditional graduation without having an auditorium full of people,” Ed Hastings, chairman of the school board, said Friday.

The speeches of the top four students, graduation speakers and congratulatory words from school officials will be recorded and shown on CTV-7 and livestreamed online on June 14.

All the recorded ceremonies will also be transferred to CDs, DVDs or thumbdrives, a copy of which will be given to each graduate.

The auditorium and school halls will be decorated in Cony’s red and white colors for the ceremonies, and pomp and circumstance music will be played.

Teacher Pat Hannigan, one of the senior class advisors, said other end-of-year activities will take place virtually only. In a video message to students posted on a school site with graduation information, she said that efforts would be made to make graduation time as normal as possible for the graduates. Class day activities will include seniors putting together a class history — from their time as freshmen to seniors — and she noted the pandemic and end of classroom instruction and the modified graduation would be an event worth noting in that history.

“We’ll do everything possible as we normally would,” Hannigan said. “We’re going to do our best (to) get this as wonderful as possible for our seniors.”

Hastings said as long as participants follow social distancing protocols when diplomas are awarded, and everyone wears masks, the event should be safe. He noted there are often more people in a grocery store than there would be at any one time in Cony for the graduation events.

Silsby, who could not be reached for comment Friday, said in the video to students that it’s sad they won’t have a traditional Cony graduation. But, Silsby said, officials hope the planned ceremonies — though different — will still serve to honor the accomplishments of graduates with their families while maintaining the safety of everyone involved.

“We want to say a wonderful congratulations to our seniors, we’re so proud of you and I know this graduation ceremony does look different than what you expected,” she said. “But hopefully it is as meaningful, if you get a chance to come to Cony one last time, walk across our auditorium stage and we get a chance to celebrate you and your accomplishments.”

Project Graduation officials, according to a letter sent to students, plan to organize a “graduation celebration drive-by” the evening of June 14 in which students would drive around the city, though further details were not available by press time.

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