Class of 2020: the one that got away

Maya Benjamin, On-Campus Editor

Rounding the final corner of a high school career and living through a once-in-a-century global pandemic are two situations few can say they experienced in tandem. The Class of 2020, however, can. And they have the disappointments to prove it.

Following a spoiled Senior Spring Project, seniors were stripped of a traditional graduation ceremony in the Nicholas Athletic Center, and ever since, a graduation team that included Head of School Jen Price, Upper School (US) Director Geoff Theobald, and Associate Director of College Counseling Katie Gayman, has attempted to provide as safe a celebration as possible.

On June 5, they arranged a drive-by graduation called the “diplomobile.” Clad in regal robes and crowns, Dr. Price, Mr. Theobald, and Ms. Gayman celebrated the seniors from a safe distance as they handed each graduate a diploma via extension rod. But Dr. Price still desired a more formal finish for the seniors, she said.

“They just didn’t get to say goodbye to each other in person, and I thought it was really important that they see each other and that their time at BB&N—for some of these kids 14 years of their lives—be commemorated,” Dr. Price said. “Just to be able to do it in person on our field felt important.”

On June 17, the state’s department of education released guidelines for hosting a safe graduation. Dr. Price said she and the graduation team were hopeful an in-person graduation would be possible.

“I think [because of our] desire to create some closure for the Class of 2020 in person, when the state department of education gave us those guidelines, although restrictive and difficult, we thought we could pull them off,” Dr. Price said.

To accommodate summer travel and college move-in dates, the ceremony was set for August 10. On the night of August 6, however, that plan fell through.

With coronavirus cases in the Cambridge area ticking up just days before the planned ceremony, Cambridge Public Health Department Chief Officer Claude Jacob contacted Dr. Price and implored her to call off the event. Mr. Jacob highlighted the 100-person limit for outdoor events issued by the state on August 1 and said the graduation ceremony, with anticipated attendance nearing 450, would break the advisory.

After continued dialogue with Mr. Jacob, Dr. Price said, she attempted to alter the original plan to fit the advisory. Would it be safe to divide the Class of 2020 into fifths so that each group could graduate while still staying under the 100-person limit? She contacted Commissioner of Education Jeff Riley and others to seek the best course of action.

In the end, she said, all roads lead to cancellation.

“I was sad. Sad for the students, sad for those of us who have been working for two months to put on this graduation with all of these very complicated rules,” Dr. Price said. “We had the stage up, the boxes drawn on the field, the flowers ordered. It’s hard to call something off at that time because we were so close.”

Senior Class President Alfie Rudnick ’20 also expressed disappointment.

“No matter how long you were [at BB&N], you can’t really deny that it was an anticlimactic finish to our career,” Alfie said. “I plan to keep in touch with a lot of people from our class—and teachers and people from other classes—but still, to me, at least, it won’t really feel like we’ve graduated until I get to college because of the lack of closure.”

Gabi Lunceford ’20 said an in-person event would have given her a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that she now feels is missing.

“I found BB&N to be a struggle at times, not academically, but just the environment of the school I found to be sometimes very hard to navigate through,” she said. “So being able to graduate was very exciting to me. I was like, ‘Oh, I made it through and everything!’ It was kind of disappointing just because I had almost done it.”

Julian Crowley ’20 said he was most frustrated the event was cancelled so last minute.

“I don’t really believe in making promises that you can’t keep, so I kind of wish Dr. Price and Ms. Gayman were a little bit more realistic with what would have happened,” he said. “At the same time, they can’t predict everything.”

Julia Noyes ’20 noted that other local high schools were able to host in-person graduations and said she felt let down.

“A big part of what got me through this unique and unexpected spring and summer was the fact we could all still be together one more time before we left for college,” she said.