Commencement Speaker Kayleigh Duggan addresses her classmates, scattered in cars parked at the Wiscasset airport Saturday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

WISCASSET — The roar of airplane engines and car horns mixed with clapping and cheers Saturday afternoon to celebrate Morse High School’s Class of 2020.

The 126 seniors graduated at the Wiscasset Municipal Airport, an unusual venue for unusual times, as high schools across the nation have had to find new ways to host graduation ceremonies while maintaining physical distancing to protect students and families from the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the ceremony, graduates stayed in their cars with their families, parked along the airport tarmac. They were called up to the stage in groups of 10 to receive their diplomas. Graduates wore blue Morse High School-branded face masks, which could only be removed when receiving their diplomas. The celebration concluded with a flyover conducted by five seaplanes.

Graduate Griffin Dever waits in his car with his family at the Wiscasset Municipal Airport to receive his diploma. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

During the ceremony, students spoke of how being forced into online learning and watching their long-awaited senior traditions get canceled forged resilience and unity rather than bitterness and sorrow.

“I see bravery in the class of 2020,” said commencement speaker Abigail Schotten. “We came into this world during the wake of 9/11 and the fear it caused. We will be leaving the nest in the wake of the virus.”

Schotten, who works as a dietary and nutrition aid at Midcoast Hospital, spoke of how she assured patients they were safe before COVID-19 reached Maine, but soon learned just how quickly the disease could change things. She described how she went to work one day and saw a picture of a seashell on her favorite patient’s door — a sign that means the patient is in comfort care and about to die.

“What I was blessed with one day was gone the next,” she said, imploring her classmates to never take small things, like going to school, for granted.

“I didn’t think our graduation and other senior traditions would be possible, so this ceremony is truly a benediction to me,” Schotten added.

Rather than sitting together on the McMann athletic field, students remained with their families in their cars, waiting for their turn to walk across the stage, diploma in hand. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Kayleigh Duggan had similar thoughts in her commencement remarks.

“The class of 2020 before me, even those I can’t see through tinted car windows, has proven that though the world continues to set restrictions and boundaries, we are constantly finding ways to overcome them and prove nothing is impossible,” she said.

Typically, Morse High School holds its graduation ceremonies on McMann Field, the district’s outdoor athletic venue behind Bath Middle School. Eric Varney, principal of Morse High School, said he didn’t know of any other Morse High School graduation ceremony held outside of Bath.

Morse High School graduates wait on the airport tarmac in socially-distanced groups of 10 to receive their diplomas as car horns honk in celebration. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

When Mollie Crosby of Georgetown heard her graduation would be at the Wiscasset airport, she said she felt uncertain about the plan, but once she parked on the tarmac, she said she felt grateful.

“There’s not much I can do to change the circumstances,” said Crosby. “But I feel so fortunate that our community has come together to make this event possible for us.”

Crosby said COVID-19 has taught her the value of community and even helped her make plans for the future. In the fall, she’ll attend the University of Maine at Farmington to study psychology. She said she hopes to be a counselor “so I can give back to others in my community.”

“Our class has been through a lot, but going forward I think we can make our world a better place,” she said.

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