A 2019 Brunswick High School graduate embraces a loved one after the ceremony in June. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick school officials are going back to the drawing board after students and community members expressed disappointment over an early plan for graduation, which they deemed lacking in ceremony and celebration. 

Creating a socially responsible and physically distanced graduation that captured the right energy and sincerity for the seniors was a “huge challenge,” Troy Henninger, Brunswick High School principal, told the school board Wednesday. 

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 increases to 50 people.

The proposed plan for a “drive-in celebration” from 4:30 to 7 p.m. June 12 would involve the roughly 150 students driving, biking or walking to the school property, marching briefly as to collect their diplomas as their names are read, turning their tassels and having their photos taken, returning to their vehicles and leaving school property. To make it more festive, there would be music playing and signs on the lawn and students are allowed to decorate their mortar boards this year. The celebration would be recorded and that, plus the pre-recorded speeches, would be placed on the school’s website the following Tuesday. 

The priority, Henninger said, is making sure seniors get a graduation celebration that is safe for them and the rest of the community. 

“This is really (the students’) celebration, and we’re trying to do everything possible to make sure the kids and the community look at this event and recognize this is not the (graduation) we did last year,” he said, but hopes they can do it with equal sincerity. 

Maddie Wayne, a Brunswick High School senior and student representative to school board, applauded the administration’s goal to make it a special and safe graduation, one the students share, she said, but added that there is “a lot more potential” to make the day “a lot more ceremonial and a lot more special for the seniors.”

She presented an alternative plan drafted by a group of her peers, that included “tickets” for two cars per student, live speeches broadcast over the radio, students marching from the back parking lot in groups of 25 to 50 while remaining six feet apart and wearing masks, and a projector screen showing the students as they marched so people can watch from afar. 

Even if the exact plan can’t be accomplished, Wayne said it presented an opportunity for dialogue between the students and the administration. 

“Lawn signs are great, but maybe seeing each other is better, even if it’s through a car window,” she said. 

Theresa Gillis, a school board member and parent of a graduating senior, agreed. 

As a parent who has gotten to know many of the other students in the class, “I don’t only want to see my kid graduate, I want to see all of the other kids graduate,” she said. “They have brought so much to our town, to our schools, to our lives… I don’t think this is the best we can do. I think we can do better.” 

Board member Sarah Singer said the board received a lot of feedback, “mostly of disappointment,” after the plan was released. The schools should not ignore that, she said, and instead work to devise a plan the kids and their families could be excited about, perhaps driving in a parade down Maine Street or something equally festive. 

Graduation, and all the pieces that come with it, Gillis said, is “a mark in time that I believe they deserve to have.” 

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said in an email Thursday that a committee will work to come up with an alternate, more ceremonial plan as soon as possible. 

Other area high schools have also released updated graduation plans.

Morse High School seniors will graduate at the Wiscasset Municipal Airport June 13, allowing students to gather for their final send-off while maintaining physical distance, Eric Varney, principal, announced last week. 

Late last month Charles Lomonte, principal of Wiscasset Middle High School said the school will hold an abbreviated, but in-person, graduation ceremony and car procession outside the school  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.

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.”

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