Although Brookfield school officials tried to make the 2020 graduation ceremony as traditional as possible, graduating senior Samantha Craig said she appreciated the fact that it wasn’t wholly traditional.
“I’m proud by how unique it is,” she said. “It’s definitely very different.”
The ceremony was held May 12, spread out over more than four hours, so social distancing guidelines could be followed. Sixty-seven of the 69 graduates attended.
Supt. Toby Gibson said he ran the format past the Trumbull County Combined Health Department before announcing plans, but he wanted to honor the students in as traditional a way as possible.
“I’m not gonna let a graduating class just drift off,” he said at the April 22 school board meeting. “To work as hard as they have for 13 years, to do whatever’s been asked of them and then to be dealt this blow, they deserve to be honored and we’re gonna do that.”
The ceremony was held in the school auditorium. The stage was decorated with ferns and pillars topped with enormous white roses.
Each student was asked to limit the number of family members and friends who accompanied them to six, and most complied. They entered the school through a door of the high school, on the opposite end of the auditorium, and were stationed in family groups, away from others. School personnel guided the groups as they worked their way up the hall, into the cafeteria, and finally to the back side door of the auditorium.
Adam Lewis, director of teaching, learning and accountability, ushered family members into the auditorium, where they were advised to sit in the middle for the best view. Lewis handed each student a white rose, the class flower.
As a student stood at the door, ready to enter, Principal Kristen Foster, welcomed the group.
“Although the circumstances do not allow everyone to be gathered in celebration of these graduates at the same time, in the same venue, we are together because, in our hearts, we share the same love, pride and admiration for the graduating class of 2020,” she said.
A recording of Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” was played as the student walked along the back aisle of the auditorium and turned down the middle aisle toward the stage. The student was stopped before the stage, and Foster read an introduction that listed sports played, clubs and organizations belonged to and plans for the future.
The student walked onto the stage and placed the rose on a table by a photo of a bow-tied Hunter Haines, a class member who died May 4, 2018, then stood for a photo. A school board member – all five worked in shifts – handed the student a diploma and they posed for another photo. The student walked across the stage past Gibson – who said his job on the day was just to stand there – toward Foster, who instructed him or her to switch their tassel from right to left, signifying that they have graduated.
At one point, a student thrust his hand out to shake Gibson’s, but the superintendent respectfully declined.
Each graduate then joined his or her family group, and elementary teacher Megan Rodgers waited outside the school entrance to take photos of the student tossing his or her cap into the air.
Many students had photos taken by the trophy cases, the Spirit Rock the class installed just last week, and the Brookfield High School sign donated by the classes of the ’50s and ’60s.
Class President T.J. Kirila and the four valedictorians: Justin Atkinson, Carley Nastasi, Kayla Johnson and Brady Reichart, gave speeches, and other students read the names of those who received honor diplomas, were members of National Honor Society and members of Student Council.
In his address, Brady thanked the Haines family “for all the wonderful things you do for this school, from the senior lunch to the pin that I’m wearing right now.”
Each student and many school officials were given a pin with Hunter’s initials and a cross on it, and the flowers were purchased by the school.
“I would also like to thank Hunter,” Brady said. “Even though you are not here today to walk across the stage with me, you are here in everybody’s hearts. The impact that you had on my life cannot be put into words, and I will always be honored to have known you and for the amazing friendship that we had. While you may not be here to celebrate with us, I’m sure you’re looking down on us, throwing your own kind of party right now. Don’t worry, Hunter. Me and your boys will always feel like you’re with us; I promise.”
All the festivities and speeches were videorecorded – along with remarks from Gibson, who taped them a day earlier – and an edited graduation video will be distributed to graduates, Gibson said.
Samantha said she appreciated being handed a diploma and being able to lay the rose for Hunter.
“I thought it was very sweet,” she said of the ceremony. “It was very sincere, definitely. I thought it went perfectly. It was very nice, very endearing.”
Ryan Logan said the ceremony gave him “that feeling.”
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Ryan said. “I enjoyed it. Had a lot of fun in there. It was just all worth it, at the end of the day.”
“I think they did a good job for what they were allowed to do,” said Harley Williams, the father of graduates Aubrianna and Gage Williams, the final two students to receive their diplomas. “They did a really nice job of giving the kids an opportunity to at least have a memory.”