COVID-19

Lawn signs popping up to offer a salute to high school seniors

From Shoreham to Southold, signs are popping up to show support for the Class of 2020.

What began as a small idea to honor the graduating seniors, who may miss out on the usual traditions in light of the global coronavirus pandemic, has blossomed into a regional effort to recognize every graduate.

Blue and gold signs mark the Shoreham and Wading River homes of “Wildcat” seniors under a project put together by parents Lee Steimel and Mary Sheridan, both of whom have children graduating this year.

“It was their year,” Ms. Steimel said Monday, adding that she feels terrible that her daughter, Summer, will miss out on everything from her final lacrosse season to saying goodbye to teachers and friends and, now, possibly even a graduation ceremony. “Everything’s changed,” she said. “We wanted to do something to recognize them and put a smile on their face.”

The idea is spreading east.

Jennifer Mato, whose son Christian is a senior at Riverhead High School, saw other districts placing signs throughout the community and thought the gesture could help lift spirits during such an uncertain time. 

“When you pass by and see the signs, it makes you feel good,” she said. “We’re recognizing a milestone they deserve because of the work they put in to get to this point.”

It quickly became Ms. Mato’s mission to make sure all seniors at Riverhead — there are nearly 450 — had a sign to place outside their homes. “It wasn’t just about getting one for my son,” she said. “I wanted all the seniors to have it.”

Donations started pouring in from parents, local businesses and even community members who don’t have a senior but want to show support.

“A little recognition through a lawn sign goes a long way,” said Jessica Murgolo, president of the senior class at Riverhead. “It shows [the community] supports us and that we’re all in this together.”

Earlier this month, Ms. Murgolo, 18, teamed up with 80 classmates to create a video message of hope to the community from their perspective.

She said Friday that she intended the video to be shared with classmates and the community. It has also been shared across local news networks and now has over 24,000 views on YouTube. “This isn’t just a message to Riverhead or Long Island, but the entire state and other schools to stay strong,” she said.

The Riverhead signs are being printed by Ron Fisher, a Riverhead High School alumnus who previously served on the Board of Education.

“I have a love for Riverhead,” he said. “You work for 13 years to walk across that field.”

Mr. Fisher, the owner of Fisher Signs & Shirts in Southampton, said over 100 orders came in last week and, with nearly $2,500 in donations, they are close to meeting their goal of providing each student with a sign. Three options are available online: a generic congratulatory sign for $10, a $10 donated sign or a customized sign for $20.

“People are putting nicknames, sports numbers from their jersey, it’s really cool,” Mr. Fisher said.

A senior sign in Wading River. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Additional donations, he said, will support other initiatives to recognize the graduates. “Tons of ideas are floating around. Any extra money we raise will go back to the Class of 2020 in some way,” Mr. Fisher said.

The idea, he said, has spread rapidly across social media. He’s now creating signs for Southold, Sag Harbor, Southampton and Westhampton in his studio.

In Southold, a similar project will create approximately 70 lawn signs, each featuring the Settlers logo and yearbook photo of the Class of 2020 in front of the high school.

“It’s disheartening,” said Kimberly Mele, the parent of a Southold senior. “The last part of senior year is supposed to be the best part of school. As a parent, I feel helpless.”

Greenport Village may also soon be adorned with the faces of approximately 57 graduating seniors.

Joan Dinizio, the assistant to the athletic director at Greenport High School, anticipates over $2,000 in donations for banners she hopes to put on poles that usually bear the village’s emblem.

“I love the kids of our school,” she said. “I thought it’d be great to have something to make them feel good about themselves.”

Greenport Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said that, pending approval from district administrators, village crews would work to install the banners outside the school and along Front Street into the village. Ms. Phillips said the banners would celebrate the students’ new chapter. 

“But it also brings a sense of community in the Village of Greenport,” she said.

In each community, the new tradition may continue even after the pandemic subsides. In the meantime, students and parents alike are anxiously awaiting direction on school closures and, of course, graduation ceremonies.

“Instead of looking forward to June and saying, ‘OK, we’re definitely not having a graduation’ —we aren’t even looking at that right now,” Ms. Mato said. “Day by day, let’s see what happens.” 

Last week, Ms. Murgolo met virtually with Riverhead district administrators and school board members to start talking about other ways to commemorate graduation and a “Plan B” in case social distancing measures continue beyond May 15. No formal plans have been made yet.

“They want to do anything they can to make this year special,” she said. “It’s nice to have that support system.”

Riverhead signs can be ordered or donated online at anicesign.com/riverhead.

Southold signs can be ordered or donated online at anicesign.com/southold.

Donation checks for Southold may also be sent to Fisher Signs and Shirts, 1691 County Road 39, Southampton NY 11968 with “Southold High School” in the memo line.