'Hybrid, epic': Mount Greylock Class of 2020 celebrates graduation

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Mount Greylock Regional School Principal Mary MacDonald called this week's Class of 2020 celebration, "the hybrid, epic graduation we were all hoping for." It began with a Friday night broadcast, continued Saturday morning with a drive-thru ceremony and a rain shower and concluded with afternoon sunshine and honking car parades through the district's three member towns.

This cohort of 84 Mounties made history with the kind of graduation celebration no one has seen the likes of before.

As her family's minivan queued up in line, Senior Class Vice President Anna Welch pushed herself halfway out of the rear driver's side window, to take photos and wave at Class Treasurer Gabriella Alvarez queued up behind them. Asked to describe the feeling of this moment, Welch widened her eyes, grinned and said, "Insane."

"It's been really hard for everyone, but it's turned out better than I thought it was going to be," she said.

Saturday morning's ceremony looked and felt like a tailgate party, less the grilling, crossed with a prom walk-in, arriving in sports cars, pick-up trucks and everyday sedans. Vehicles were festooned with red and white balloons, streamers and banners. Windows were painted with messages that reflected both the lightheartedness of the day and the gravity of the times: "Congratulations." "Vote 2020." "Black Lives Matter." "Best wishes."

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One by one, as vehicles pulled up to the school, students walked out and over to a standing hand sanitizer dispenser before walking a velvet rope-lined red carpet leading up the school's front steps. They all wore caps and gowns and accessorized in their own way. Some wore three-inch heels, some wore sunglasses and flip-flops, but all seemed to wear a sense of relief mixed with pride, reflected in their expressions and body language. They made it.

At the top of the steps, Superintendent Kimberley Grady and School Committee Chair Christina Conry greeted each grad with smiles behind cloth masks from a behind a table. There, students picked up a white box tied with a red ribbon containing their class awards, relevant certificates and coveted high school diploma. There were no handshakes, no hugs, but plenty of thank yous exchanged. After posing briefly for the school's photographer, each student returned to their vehicles, reception halls on wheels filled with overjoyed family members and friends.

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The speeches, the traditional part of graduation, came the night before.

Senior Class President Alex Morin kicked off a previously recorded virtual "pre-graduation" ceremony, which debuted Friday evening via WilliNet Community Television and the district's YouTube channel. Morin made his welcoming remarks twice, first, for the recording, dressed in a suit and tie, with the school's empty gymnasium as a backdrop. He welcomed his class and their families again on Saturday, wearing a mask and standing at a podium set up on the school's front steps, his voice carrying across the school's parking lot to classmates sitting in parked vehicles, a few dozen yards away from him.

"Many will remember this as our defining moment in high school. Do not let this assumption hold true. In these few short months we have found the true meaning of friendship. We have gathered together and supported one another," Morin said.

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The video additionally featured remarks from Superintendent Kimberley Grady, who reminded them, "You all entered the world shortly after 9/11 and the fears we lived through during this time. You are exiting high school during a pandemic, which has forever changed the world as we knew it."

"Our four years of high school have been anything but ordinary," Toby Foehl, the faculty-nominated student speaker, said. "It all started the spring of our freshman year when the gym was blocked off as part of the upcoming building project. ... One of the best parts of ninth grade physics was that you could see the gigantic mound of dirt outside from Mr. Louis and Dr. B's windows. Coach Gill's epic fitness days were forced to take place in a room that was previously used for cat dissection. ... Regardless of the changes happening to the building, the community and the spirit remained the same on the inside."

Student selected speaker Nicole Overbaugh said, "We are the class that creates change, and we are the class that adapts to change. We've never cowered away from change either. From small changes, like being the class that advocated for microwaves in the cafeteria, to larger changes, such as voicing opinions on our new school and adjusting to construction noise. Even now, we are living through undoubtedly the biggest change of our high school career. We have learned to adapt, in both school and life, to the changes COVID-19 presents, while still being able to articulate our desires for the remainder of our education."

Filmed with the school's trophy case as a backdrop, Assistant Principal Jacob Schutz announced the student award honorees for academic and extracurricular achievement, as well as community service. As he made the announcements, photos of the recipient appeared in the upper right corner of the screen. The graduates will now head in all different directions, from Berkshire Community College to Yale University, work at the Williamstown Youth Center to various branches of the U.S. military.

Said retiring Principal Mary MacDonald, who was also surprised Saturday by the gift of flowers, kind words from Welch and Alvarez, and sustained honks of appreciation from the parking lot: "With passion and eloquence you have conveyed frustration with injustice, inequality, insensitivity and inaction regarding local, national and global issues to your cohort and the adults in your lives — I have certainly heard many well developed arguments and ideas from you over your years at Mount Greylock. You have voices that are strong and clear. You have vision. You are, after all, the Class of 2020. ... Gather your courage, fortify yourself, build alliances and take responsibility to make your world — our world — a more just, equal, kind, livable place. We need your energy and your ideas. I trust all 84 of you have much to contribute to the betterment of our world."


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