TEWKSBURY — Though the novel coronavirus might have shut down schools and cancelled major events, Tewksbury school department administrators got creative to help TMHS seniors celebrate years of hard work with an unorthodox but memorable graduation ceremony last week.
226 seniors and their families were invited to the high school on a staggered schedule on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to receive diplomas and take pictures.
Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles packed into one vehicle per student and arrived at the school at a rate of about seven students every 15 minutes. Families drove all the way around the parking lot to reach the field on the northeast side of the campus, past decorations and signs donated by the Tewksbury Teacher’s Association.
Tents were set up in the grass to protect volunteers from the sun. School administrators, School Committee members, and members of the TMHS Parent Advisory Committee were present to greet families.
Students received their records folder containing documents dating back to kindergarten, the PAC provided gift bags containing a commemorative towel, a class shirt, candy, a paper scroll containing messages from past and present teachers, and a gift card courtesy of the TTA.
Additionally, each student received a hanging flowering plant donated by Dargoonian Farms in Andover.
“The PAC is so happy and honored to be a part of this ceremony celebrating the Class of 2020,” said PAC co-chair Joy Beatrice. “In conjunction with the administration, we made this day as special as it could be.”
Families then drove down to the electric sign at the school entrance. One at a time, each family left their cars for the graduation area, donning masks and doing their best to social distance.
Students received their diploma from principal Kristen Vogel while parents got photos and teachers cheered. Vogel then stepped aside to allow family members to join their students on the stage for more pictures. Afterwards, students could take additional pictures on the other side of the sign.
School maintenance staff planted red and white flowers around the sign, and the “stage,” built by volunteers with donated wood from Friend Lumber, was covered with red carpeting.
After officially graduating, students could turn back into the driveway to get pictures with senior decorations on the lawn or in front of a large banner printed with every graduate’s photo.
Superintendent Chris Malone directed traffic, while assistant superintendent Brenda Regan greeted families.
“It’s such a personalized experience,” she said. “People feel like they’re having an authentic graduation.”
School Committee members Keith Sullivan and Scott Wilson cheered on graduates on Thursday morning. Sullivan wanted to thank all Tewksbury staff members, Town Manager Richard Montuori, the Tewksbury Police Department, and Tewksbury Telemedia.
“I also want to thank the students and parents for embracing the event... we feel it’s a special moment seniors can have with the family as a graduate,” said Sullivan.
Wilson echoed his sentiments: “The administration and PAC have been amazing. They put together a tremendous event to honor these kids. It’s not how we envisioned it, but it’s been excellent. I think we surprised some parents.”
On Friday, the graduation ceremony concluded with the premiere of a prerecorded video on YouTube courtesy of the Tewksbury Telemedia department. Before the presentation, a photo slideshow of the graduates throughout their years in Tewksbury schools was run for families to enjoy —memories of elementary school, team sports, and school trips to Washington, D.C. and New York City were included.
The video segued into a series of remarks from students and staff. Class Marshal Elizabeth Taggart served as master of ceremonies for the program.
Members of the TMHS band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” together from each of their homes.
Superintendent Chris Malone addressed the seniors: “How do you celebrate the extraordinary students who are graduating from Tewksbury Memorial High during equally extraordinary times? It’s simple. Focus on what you know... You now know... how it is important to be living in the moment... what you are capable of living through, and what you are capable of living without. No challenge will be too big for you.”
Principal Kristen Vogel also gave remarks in her last graduation ceremony at TMHS: “Do not forget who you are,” she said. “You are a remarkable group of individuals... You are the captain of your own ship. Chart your own course and keep your eye on the horizon.”
Vogel also announced two annual awards: the Principal’s Award went to Victoria Schille, and the Teachers’ Choice Award went to Colby Brown.
Salutatorian Megan Cunningham gave the first student address of the evening.
“We all deserve to celebrate this occasion,” she said, thanking teachers at TMHS for shaping her education.
“Though we are all individually different people, we were able to come together to make a unique community. We had our differences... and we influenced each other in different ways... I wish you all the best wherever you go in life. The most important thing is not what job you have, or how many years you went to school. Rather, I hope you all achieve happiness and satisfaction in life.”
Valedictorian Victoria Schille also spoke, reminding students of the memories and skills gained at TMHS.
“We all made it to this day, leaving high school with all the knowledge we need in the real world, while still not having a clue where our lockers were... I want to thank our families and friends for supporting us through our academics and extracurriculars... Try to appreciate those who have been by our side through these four years,” she said. “While we are receiving our high school diplomas, these are only the tickets to the next step of our lives... we step into the next stage of life on an even playing field.... We have been through more than most classes in recent history... we did not lose out on opportunities but took creative approaches to make it work... Today is the first day of the rest of our lives... I ask that you don’t just get by in life — we owe it to ourselves to live a life full of meaning and purpose.”
Schille also announced that the class gifted their prom deposit to the class of 2021. The PAC is holding the rest of the class funds for future events.
English teacher Conner Bourgoin gave the faculty address.
“For a class that is so sprightly and witty, this is not how you wanted to end your experience in high school,” he said, lamenting the loss of prom, traditional graduation, and the loss of annual senior activities.
However, “there is no point in feeling defeat take over you... your life has a lot of exciting things coming towards you.”
Bourgoin asked seniors to do three things: reflect on memories, relate those memories to who they are today, and go out and redefine other people’s lives.
“No matter what you do, your success can easily be measured by how you have redefined others in this world. You don’t need to be known by many; it’s just those few you change that prove what a positive influence you are.”
Bourgoin reminded seniors that there are still challenges ahead, but “every challenge... has a huge payoff in the end.”
Members of the TMHS chorus performed by video the school alma mater song “The Future We Foresee.” The song premiered at last year’s graduation and was written by Connor J. Mangan ‘19.
School Committee member Shannon Demos led the presentation of diplomas to students. As each name was read, the student’s photo was displayed on the screen, along with their senior quote and plans for the future. The final section of the graduation contained pictures of students physically receiving their diplomas earlier in the week outdoors at TMHS.
Students and their families expressed overall satisfaction in light of the circumstances. Graduate Zach Spiegel perhaps summed it up best: “Though this year did not end the way I expected, the graduation ceremony still made me feel relieved and happy. I was relieved that the last 13 years of school paid off for me receiving my diploma, and happy that I got to graduate in person. My senior year and high school graduation will definitely be memorable for life, and I am grateful that I got to experience a graduation one way or another.”
The complete graduation video, along with footage of the in-person degree ceremony, may be viewed at youtube.com/TewksburyTV.