AUGUSTA — Cony High School graduates each had a personal commencement ceremony, of sorts, over three days, culminating Sunday with televised and live-streamed speeches and with graduates receiving diplomas as their families looked on.

Due to state limits on large gathering due to COVID-19, the nontraditional graduation, like those at most Maine schools this year, took the place of the normally large gathering that usually marks students’ achievements.

At the close of Sunday’s ceremony, Principal Kim Silsby played a video featuring brief, touching messages of support and advice to students from their teachers and other members of the Cony staff.

“I miss seeing you every day in the classroom,” English teacher Laurie Rodrigue told graduates in her video message. “Even though I haven’t seen you in a long time, I can tell you this: I will never forget you. This class, the Class of 2020, will be cemented in my memory forever.”

Graduates said they appreciated the efforts made to celebrate their graduations during the pandemic.

“I’m super excited. I like how Cony kept it as traditional as possible,” said graduate Josephine Nutakki, who received her diploma from Silsby as the student’s mother, Reena; sister and previous Cony graduate, Jasmine; and dad, Jayadey, looked on and took photographs and videos in the auditorium at Cony.

Nutakki was part of a senior student council that provided input to school leaders as they decided how to handle graduation without violating social-distancing rules.

She said she was happy how the graduation turned out, but sad how her senior year ended, with her class being deprived of the last several weeks of senior activities. She anticipates the class will have a well-attended reunion when that happens.

Graduate Dakota Andow, whose mother helped him don his red graduation cap and gown in the parking lot as he awaited his turn on stage to receive his diploma, said he felt the graduates will come out stronger because of what they have been through in recent months.

Caroline Mosca marches into Sunday, June 14, 2020 the auditorium during graduation at Cony High School in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“I feel like it makes this class stronger than any other class, because we had to go through something no other class had to,” said Andow, who plans to attend and play football for Husson University in Bangor. “We couldn’t make as many memories together. But it feels great to graduate.”

Students and their guests had their temperatures checked before they were allowed to enter the school. Masks or face shields were required, and student and family groups were spaced apart as they made their way to the auditorium.

Staff members inside the school also wore masks, and Silsby, who handed diplomas to students while Superintendent James Anastasio greeted then as they came into the auditorium and onto the stage, one at a time, wore a mask and gloves.

“Pomp and Circumstance” was played as each student entered the auditorium, and each of their turns on stage was recorded on video.

The graduation proceedings will be combined into recordings that will be given to each graduate.

Salutatorian Mallory Turgeon encouraged viewers of Sunday’s televised speeches to take out their cellphones and think about — and record — a few of the best opportunities they were provided at Cony, and how they impacted them as people.

“Be like a camera. Shoot as many shots as possible to capture the good, and develop from the bad,” she said as she concluded her speech. “Every experience, both good and bad, happens for a reason, and you can take these lessons that you learn and apply them throughout the remainder of your life.”

Superintendent James Anastasio estimated he had attended about 50 graduation ceremonies in his lifetime.

“Quite frankly, never have I seen anything like this,” Anastasio said as he opened the speaking portion of the ceremony to television and live-stream viewers and about 20 people gathered in the Cony auditorium. “Usually, I’m looking out at thousands of people. It has been fun to watch the most-intimate graduation I’ve seen out of those 50-plus.”

Abigail Pelletier, who had several family members with her, said it was hard not to complete her senior year and take part in school traditions. She said she looks forward to the next step, which for her will include attending the University of Maine at Farmington to study psychology.

Graduate Caroline Mosca also had family members “at” the ceremony, including her brother, who watched from Washington, D.C., via a cellphone held by other family members.

Family, friends and graduates maintain Sunday a social distance before walking into Cony High School in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

English teacher Phil Pelletier, chosen to speak by students, referenced Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” in urging graduates to find happiness through the choices they make and the stories their lives will become.

Frost’s poem ends: “I shall be telling this with a sigh; Somewhere ages and ages hence; Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

“I’m curious about your stories that will make up the fabric of your lives,” Pelletier said. “All are the result of choices you make, and these choices are important because they define who you are. They become the story of your life. These stories you create yourself will most likely create your happiness in your life. Find your happiness in life.”

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