BATH — Closing out a year turned upside-down by the coronavirus pandemic, Morse High School seniors will graduate at the Wiscasset Municipal Airport, allowing students to gather for their final send-off while maintaining physical distance.

Eric Varney, Morse High School principal, announced the decision May 8 after meeting with class officers and advisors. Varney said the students wanted an in-person graduation that followed the regulations on gatherings set by Gov. Janet Mills.

The ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 13 at 2 p.m. The 126 seniors and their families will remain in their cars, parked at least 6 feet apart, during the ceremony, according to Varney. Students are expected to wear caps and gowns and will receive their diplomas at the ceremony.

“It’s hard to picture a graduation ceremony where everyone is in cars, but in the end, I think it’ll be historic and a nice event,” said Varney. “We’re trying to keep this as close to a traditional ceremony as possible.”

The cars will be lined up on the airport’s 3,400-foot runway and taxiway, and speeches will be played through a radio transmitter, according to Rick Tetrev, manager of the Wiscasset airport.

“I don’t think anyone anywhere would think their graduation would happen like this,” said Tetrev. “But, you have to get creative in times like these. This is a wonderful opportunity to show people there are ways to make this unique and special even though we’re dealing with this terrible virus.”

Typically, Morse High School holds its graduation ceremonies on McMann Field, the district’s outdoor athletic field behind Bath Middle School. Varney said he didn’t know whether any other Morse High School graduation ceremony has taken place outside Bath.

Molly Cashman, a senior at Morse and vice president of her class, said students didn’t want to postpone graduation, a route Portland Public Schools chose, or have multiple ceremonies with small groups of students.

“It’s definitely going to be different, but it’s the best option for us because we all want to see each other one last time,” said Cashman. “Even though we’ll be in separate cars, I think it’ll be more personal. No matter what, it’s going to be a graduation to remember.”

Tetrev said the airport will be closed for the event, a detail he had to clear with the Federal Aviation Administration because it’s considered a “non-aviation event.” Because of this, the school had to pay a fee to rent the airport, which Tetrev said totaled $2,520, or $20 per student.

“If nothing else, the experience of making the Morse graduation happen in the face of a global pandemic has solidified that our local communities truly do bleed blue and white,” Varney wrote in his letter.

Varney said the airport can hold a maximum of 250 cars, meaning students will be limited in the number of cars their family members can bring to the ceremony. Further details on rules and guidelines students must follow during the ceremony soon will be sent to seniors.

“A calendar of events will be published soon that includes many end-of-year events that will be held virtually, including academic awards, scholarship night, senior assembly, as well as the alumni association events of which the class of 2020 will be the guests of honor,” Varney said.

Schools across the Southern Midcoast have been closed since mid-March and canceled in-person learning for the remainder of the school year in early April, which put end-of-the-year ceremonies and celebrations in flux.

Graduation ceremonies are limited by Mill’s four-stage reopening plan, which sets restrictions on how many people can gather in one place. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited until June 1, when the limit then rises to 50 people.

Late last month Charles Lomonte, principal of Wiscasset Middle High School announced the school will hold an abbreviated, but in-person, graduation ceremony and car procession outside the school at 7 p.m. on June 11. The ceremony will be followed by a “special closing activity at the school honoring our 2020 Wiscasset Middle High School graduates,” according to a letter Lomonte sent to students and families.

Brunswick High School announced it will host a “drive-in celebration for the Brunswick High School class of 2020” on Friday, June 12th, from 4:30-7 p.m. An online video of the celebration, including pre-recorded speeches, will be posted on the school’s website on Tuesday, June 16th, according to the school’s website.

Efforts to reach Paul Perzanoski, Brunswick school department superintendent, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Shawn Chabot, Maine School Administrative District 75 superintendent, announced in a letter dated May 1 that Mt. Ararat High School’s graduation ceremony will take place on Sunday, June 14, but “different options are being discussed with student input.”

“Further details of what ‘graduation will look like’ will be forthcoming,” Chabot wrote.

Attempts to reach Chabot Wednesday were unsuccessful.

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