Riverhead announces plans for multiple graduation ceremonies

Though the coronavirus pandemic has pushed commencement ceremonies online, Riverhead graduates won’t be deprived of the chance to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas in-person.

During a Zoom meeting Monday morning, district officials announced plans for a walk-up graduation ceremony to take place in person in late June to recognize just over 400 graduating seniors in-person.

The modified graduation will take place over three days: June 29, June 30 and July 1, according to Riverhead High School Principal Sean O’Hara.

“It will take place on the football field and it’ll be dressed up just as you expect graduation day to look,” Mr. O’Hara told a group of seniors that participated in Monday’s Zoom call.

While officials must still fine tune the logistics of the ceremonies, including how students will be split up each day, Mr. O’Hara said students will be asked to arrive at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field at a specific time with their family. They will then be escorted onto the field to have their name called, get their diploma and pose for photos.

District administrators stressed that social distancing guidelines must be adhered to, but did not specify how many family members will be permitted to join each graduate. Officials all expressed optimism that some social distancing guidelines could be relaxed by the end of June, but will follow whatever protocols are in place.

Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said that in recent meetings with senior students, the top concerns that have come up were the ability to make speeches, the act of walking across the stage, and getting photos in their cap and gown. “It’s what everyone talks about and thinks about,” she said of the traditions. “It really is a rite of passage.”

The in-person activities will complement the virtual graduation, which will air on June 26 as scheduled. The virtual ceremony, Mr. O’Hara said, will include the traditional speeches from valedictorian Christina Yakaboski and salutatorian Zachary White, as well as a guest speaker and remarks from him and Dr. Henriquez.

During the virtual ceremony, students’ photos will be featured in a presentation along with their goals, post-grad plans and a quote.

Senior Noah Pekar asked during the zoom call if students can decorate their face masks as a twist on the tradition of cap decorating. Dr. Henriquez said students should absolutely commemorate this unique graduation year. “You want to remember what you were going through,” she said. “You’re living in a time in history right now.”

In addition to graduation, district administrators are also working on plans to conduct virtual academic and scholarship award ceremonies in June.

Dr. Henriquez also said officials are looking at a date in late July to have a final in-person celebration for students. Discussions are ongoing and include ideas to include prom attire or an informal senior barbecue—and administrators are open to student input.

“We want to give you the opportunity to say goodbye,” she said, to friends, classmates and teachers. “We’re hopeful that the social distance restrictions will not be in place toward the end of July. That would be great because then we can celebrate in the way that we would like to,” she said.

In the meantime, the district is preparing to hold its first big celebration for the Class of 2020 this Friday starting at 6:30 p.m. with a drive-through parade.

Seniors and their families are expected to decorate their cars and drive around the high school campus in a route lined with teachers and first responders. Mr. O’Hara said Monday that there are a number of surprises in store—and participants should turn their car radio dials to 104.7 FM during the drive-through.

Anyone attending the event must adhere to social distancing guidelines and wear a face mask, officials said.

“We’re looking forward to seeing you,” the principal said. “We know we can’t replace many of the things you were looking forward to, but this is an opportunity to provide you with an experience that is going to be memorable.”

Mr. O’Hara said students can expect to receive additional information on the in-person ceremonies, including their assigned day, as well as information on their cap and gown by the end of next week.