Amid social distancing, St. Mary’s give graduates big send off
St. Mary’s High School held its 2020 graduation in a big way. By big, we’re talking 60-foot-wide movie screens. The Lancaster high school was able to gather for graduation by prerecording the commencement speeches as well as tributes to the senior students, then playing the movie at the drive-in.
The 112 graduates and their families parked in theater one of the Transit Drive-In to watch “2020: a Graduation Story” on May 28. They saw flashing photos of the graduates from babies though senior year. The film, just as the regular graduations, had an introduction, prayer and commencement speeches. The film closed with cap and gown pictures and narration highlighting the scholastic achievements of the grads. Ironically, the second feature was “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
“This has never been done,” explained Keith Junik, dean of Academics for St. Mary’s. “In the video I say, these kids genuinely are unique. Everyone talks about Generation Z and uniqueness. They are unique in that this has never been done before and may never be done again.”
The St. Mary’s staff wanted to give its students an opportunity to gather together one last time. The school, like many others, as had to cancel much loved senior moments, such as the prom, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We looked at a bunch of different options to try and recreate a scenario that is steeped in tradition, but also really involves a group,” explained Junik. “It’s about coming together as a group. The idea was floated about the drive-in and it took off from there.”
“I wanted to keep things in a timely fashion,” added Kevin Kelleher, head of school for St. Mary’s. “It’s been a long time since the kids had something to look forward to. Even though we can’t really be together in a sense because of some social distancing, we truly are together.”
Daniel May, senior class president for the Class of 2020, will miss the family atmosphere he found at St. Mary’s.
“In every Catholic school, you’re going to get that special feeling. But, I’d say St. Mary’s is a little above that. It’s cliché – the family atmosphere. But at St. Mary’s, that’s what we’re all about. I made the best friends of my life here. I made the best memories. I’m thankful I was able to go to this school,” he said. “This past year has been better than the last three combined. We ended kind of short because of the virus, but I think the big thing that kept us all in it was our family atmosphere. We lost our prom. We lost our Spirit Week. We lost our Baccalaureate Mass. But, the constant communication with all of us is what kept us in this.”
Kelleher, who greeted families as the drove into the Lockport-based drive-in, called the past few months interesting and frustrating, but thinks the school handled the chaos well, giving gratitude to Junik for organizing the staff early on.
“Certainly interesting as far as having to do a lot of things on the fly,” he said. “Everything we did was built on a set of rules we were getting from government entities and it was changing so fast it was getting a little frustrating as we’d make a decision then think, ‘I would have done something different if I waited a day.’ But, from a school perspective, it’s been great. Our kids dove in with the distance learning. Our staff and faculty have been nothing short of amazing. Aside from missing the kids a heck of a lot and missing each other, we’ve done OK.”