Dansville seniors go out with a bang

Jeff Miller
The Express
Dansville Class of 2020 valedictorian Madeline Shafer, class president Mary Catheirne Aikin and salutatorian Jasmyn Fox celebrate graduation Friday.

DANSVILLE — As COVID-19 put the world on hold, students have had to adjust to finishing the year at home. But the interruption probably took its biggest toll on high school seniors. Gone were all of the typical year-end activities that seniors often look forward to for years, including a traditional graduation.

But for Dansville seniors, the school district did what it could to make its graduation a special one.

The district had partnered with the Livingston County Department of Health early on in the planning process, Superintendent Dr. Paul Alioto said.

“They were very helpful in advising us to delay as long as possible, in the hopes that gatherings and the number of people who could attend the gatherings would open up,” said Alioto.

Although he was glad to see the governor increase the number of people allowed to attend large gatherings, the governor held his ground on a 150-person capacity limit, and so the graduation ceremony had to be a drive-in service rather than a traditional ceremony.

“Along this whole journey with graduation, my goal, Dr. Alioto’s goal, has been to keep it as close to a traditional ceremony as possible,” high school principal Thomas Frazier said. While some schools broke their ceremony into shifts so parents could be seated, Frazier said he felt it was important to have the entire class sit together one last time, and in their hometown rather than at a nearby drive-in theater. “They left in March, didn’t know how long they’d be gone. They deserved to be together one last time, that’s why we went this route.”

Frazier also said that not only did the students miss out on finishing the year with each other, but so did he.

“The Spring is such a fun time as a high school principal with seniors,” he said. “You’re having a lot of conversations about future plans, a lot of impromptu life discussions. That’s one of the highlights of being a high school principal.”

Frazier added that he enjoyed having a few of those conversations with the students during the graduation rehearsal. He and Alioto said it felt more like a ‘five-month reunion’ for the students rather than a typical rehearsal.

On the evening of July 24, parents drove onto the grounds of Ralph Clements Field where local police, school personnel and Sheriff deputies helped monitor traffic flow and parking. Friends and family remained in their vehicles, which faced the stands where graduates sat, socially distanced from each other.

The stage in front of the stands had a podium which faced the students. If friends and family could not see the live ceremony in front of them, a screen on each side of the stage broadcast the ceremony. Attendees listened to the ceremony either via loudspeaker, or on the radio via WDNY. If they had a hard time still seeing the stage or screens, attendees could watch the livestream on a personal device via Youtube. Songs by Dansville Music teachers and Dansville Chambers singers were pre-recorded for social-distance purposes.

Apart from the drive-in/outdoor/social-distance aspect, the rest of the graduation was a typical ceremony with opening remarks from a local pastor, valedictorian and salutatorian speeches, Honors Academy recognitions, the presentation of the class gift, the announcement of this year’s Wall of Pride inductees, remarks by the school board president and presentation of diplomas.

But the outdoor, evening ceremony lent itself to include a couple of aspects that an indoor, daytime graduation doesn’t allow – a firetruck and police parade down Clara Barton Street with horns and sirens blaring in honor of “The COVID Class,” plus a brief fireworks display launched from Williams Park.

When asked in Facebook Messenger how she felt about COVID having disrupted the end of their Senior year, Valedictorian Madeline Shafer wrote back to The Express, “I was absolutely devastated when I heard that the best part of our senior year would be taken away from us. However, COVID and the unfortunate circumstances taught me and my classmates a lot. We learned to persevere and never take any moment for granted. We also saw how the school’s administration worked diligently to provide our class with the best graduation ceremony we could have despite the circumstances, and it turned out absolutely beautiful. Instead of tearing us apart, quarantine actually strengthened our class, school, and community.”

The graduation ceremony can be seen on DanvilleCSD Youtube or on the school’s Facebook page.

Dansville seniors walked the stage Friday night to receive their diplomas after waiting an extra month due to the coronavirus.