When schools shut their doors in mid-March amid the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, officials didn’t know it would be the last time students would congregate for their studies for the rest of the year.

In an effort to allow seniors to graduate together — at appropriate social distances — Winthrop High School is bringing a drive-in to the festivities set for 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. A rain date for the ceremony will be 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

With the help of Portland-based Headlight, Superintendent Connie Brown said there will be two large screens put in place at the high school. The ceremony also will be streamed on the district’s website and there will be an FM audio feed for people to listen to it in their vehicles.

Seniors march into the graduation ceremony under raised flowers June 8, 2019 at Winthrop High School. This year’s ceremony will look a little different, including taking place at night so drive-in screens will be visible for the graduates to watch the ceremony from outside the school Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Brown said this year stands out among her many of handing out diplomas.

“We always try to have a beautiful ceremony for the kids and their families, but this year with the CDC regulations and COVID, you have to be particularly careful,” Brown said. “It’s been a struggle. We contemplated moving the date and asked the kids about that, and if they wanted to go with a virtual graduation. This was their first choice.”

Principal Mark Campbell said the graduation, as planned, will allow the seniors to have as much of a normal graduation as possible. Valedictorian Gabrielle Blanco and Salutatorian Ian Dow will deliver their commencement addresses from inside Winthrop’s gymnasium.

After the addresses, the seniors will come into the Winthrop gym — one student and their family at a time — come to center court, have their name and future plans announced, and then receive their diploma from Brown. Once that student exits, the next student will come through until all seniors have received their diplomas.

“They will be able to come into the gym as it is normally done, and have a good finishing touch to their career,” said Campbell, adding that when he went to deliver caps and gowns it was apparent the students would benefit from the event. “You could just see, we had been missing them and they had been missing the school.

“This will help them close out what was a very good four years for them on a positive ending,” he added. “Normally, I tell the kids, ‘Graduations aren’t for you, it’s for your parents.’ This year, you can see it’s different; a way for them to celebrate and say goodbye to their classmates.”

The number of vehicles allowed at the school will be limited to immediate families of the students.

Brown said the district has been trying, whether through lawn signs or a banner up at the Winthrop Town Office with all the graduates on it, to make sure the seniors feel celebrated.

“You have to look at what these kids lost,” she said. “If you were a superstar track athlete and this was going to be your year — that was gone. Prom, senior trip, none of that could take place.

“I think it’s really sad when you step back; the kids have lost all of that. It’s really hard on them,” Brown added. “You have to remember this is supposed to be closure for them. It’s (graduation is) a little bit sad anyway, and they don’t get to do that as they normally would.”

In addition to Saturday’s graduation, there is a pre-recorded class night celebration that will be released on the Winthrop High School Facebook page and YouTube channel at 6 p.m. Friday. That will include addresses from Natalie Frost and Madeline Fenalson, both top 10 students, members of the class will be recognized for their National Honor Society induction and top 10 academic standing. Community awards and scholarships also will be presented during the ceremony.

The link to view the graduation ceremony can be found at the Winthrop Public Schools website.

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