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Schools prepare for graduation ceremonies

FINGER LAKES--With the Finger Lakes region making progress through the phased recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts have scheduled in-person graduations for seniors. While ceremonies will still be socially distanced, district officials say it is important to honor the senior class that has lost so much and allows the chance to say goodbye.
"Our seniors have ended their career in a much different fashion than any other class," said Howard Dennis, superintendent of the Penn Yan Central School District. "Thirteen years is a long time to work for something and then not get to end it the way you want it. This is something the community looks forward to and not having [the whole class together] is not great but keeping pieces of it allows us to send them off in a positive way. It makes sense to honor the hard work they have done."
As one of the bigger school districts, Penn Yan will be holding two graduation ceremonies Friday, June 26. One will begin at 5 p.m., the other at 7 p.m. and students will be allowed a maximum of two guests. Limited staff and teachers will be attending the ceremony, which will be held at the high school's turf stadium. Dennis said if the state loosens public gathering restrictions before graduation the district will adjust.
The backup plan for the district is a drive-through ceremony that would only go into effect in case of bad weather. According to Dennis, if that is the case, details of the backup plan will be distributed to the families of seniors.
With 37 graduates Dundee Central School District seniors are currently being allowed to invite four guests to their graduation Friday, June 26 at 6 p.m. According to district officials, the plan is to try to have as normal of a ceremony as possible and it will be held on the front lawn of the high school. However, there will be fewer staff, district officials and social distancing will be enforced. In case of rain, there is a backup plan for Dundee that is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, June 27. Seniors and their families will be kept informed through the already provided contact information.
Aliyah Brewer is the valedictorian and Lauren Howell the salutatorian for the Class of 2020.
Hammondsport Central School District Superintendent Kyle Bowers said that the district is constantly monitoring for updates to social gathering regulations to try to maximize the amount of guests students can invite to their graduation on June 26.
"We have been talking to our seniors this whole time and they said they are very close, and they wanted to graduate together and involve their families," Bowers said. "That is the core element of our plan, and we are committed to making it happen."
As such, while graduation is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m., plans will not be finalized until Wednesday, June 24 Bowers said, who added a phone and email tree is already in place to keep seniors and their families informed.
"Things change so quickly, so we want to stay flexible," Bowers said.
Gavin Ruddy is the valedictorian and Julia Bennett the salutatorian for Hammondsport.
District officials for the Watkins Glen Central School District and the Odessa-Montour Central School District said with all that was lost it became tantamount to honor the students.
"For our seniors, it's extremely important that we have a live graduation because they lost so much," said Chris Wood, superintendent of the Odessa-Montour. "The musical was scheduled the week the shutdown went into effect, we had no sports in spring, no New York City trip, no lake trip, no senior trip to the Adirondacks, spring concerts and end of the year awards were all canceled. To be able to see these kids and let them be around their friends one more time is important to everyone, not just to them but also to the school and community as a whole."
Watkins Glen High School Principal Kai D'Alleva agreed, and called having the best graduation experience for students after, "an unfortunate senior year."
As it stands, Watkins Glen is currently planning on holding both a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 26 and four in-person ceremonies on Saturday, June 27.
"The time of the virtual ceremony is to be determined... we will communicate to students and families through social media and email," D'Alleva said.
The in-person ceremonies will be held the following day at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. and will be limited to no more than 21 students per ceremony.
"This way graduates can bring up to five guests, because so many of them have siblings or friends or other family that were incredibly important to them," D'Alleva said.
If the ceremonies scheduled for Saturday have to be postponed due to the weather they will be moved to Sunday, June 28.
"Originally we had planned for just a virtual ceremony and a drive-through, but as things changed our seniors said it was a no brainer to change our plans as a result... this is extremely important to them," D'Alleva said.
For Odessa-Montour things will kick off for seniors on June 24 with a graduation walkthrough that will be followed by a police and firefighter escort to the Watkins Glen International Racetrack to do a few laps.
"Then, on Friday, June 26, weather permitting, at 6 p.m. on the Charles Martin Athletic Field we will have a live graduation ceremony," said Wood.
With one ceremony Wood said that students will only be allowed to have two guests, and social distancing guidelines will be in effect. If the ceremony must be canceled due to the weather it will be held instead on June 27.
"As long as there is no thunder and lightning we are going for it," Wood said.
At Watkins Glen, Collin Gaylord is the valedictorian and Sarah Swinnerton the salutatorian.
For Odessa-Montour, there are co-valedictorians: Derrick Lewis and Brooke Sikora. The salutatorian is Grace Vondracek.

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