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One by one, a third of the New Bloomfield High School senior class filed into the gymnasium Friday afternoon, finding lone seats distanced 6 feet away from one another.
Watching this modified procession were clusters of families, also spaced far away from each other. Despite the unique circumstances, what followed was a fairly typical graduation ceremony. Principal Paul Cloudwright and Superintendent Sarah Wisdom, along with salutatorian Ella Stevens and valedictorian Megan Harrison, spoke of achievements and memories.
A video presentation featuring childhood photos of seniors played, set to emotional tracks like "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus and "My Wish" by Rascal Flatts. Each graduate walked across the stage to thunderous applause, though no handshakes were exchanged.
"These are unique times, and we are lucky to even have a ceremony," Cloudwright said.
When the ceremony wrapped up, the graduates streamed outside for pictures with family and were met by a chorus of cheers, car horns and whistles from a dozen attendees who spent the ceremony outside — only family members watched from inside. Dozens more loved ones watched from their homes over Facebook Live.
Two hours later, the whole process started over — in streamed another set of New Bloomfield seniors and families. The third and final ceremony took place after another two hours.
The staged approach was a COVID-19-inspired measure to keep crowd sizes low.
"When senior year began back in August, we were already counting down the days until we would be done — we were almost there," Harrison said. "Then we were hit with snow days, which should have been enough to make the year weird and make us feel a little off-balance."
Then came COVID-19, Harrison continued, cutting in to the end of the year. But, the seniors did get a graduation ceremony and will still be able to hold on to their memories for years to come, she said.
"Right now, times are uncertain," Stevens said. "It is clear we are not promised tomorrow. That is why we have to appreciate each new day and live it to the fullest. Nothing in life is guaranteed, and I know that we, the Class of 2020, have proven that we are resilient, that we are strong and we are able to adapt to whatever life throws at us."
The 2020 graduating class included 53 students. Next semester, 17 students will attend two-year or technical schools, 22 will attend four-year colleges, 11 will join the workforce and three plan on joining the military.