Messalonskee seniors graduate on Thursday, June 4
Messalonskee seniors will still graduate on the originally designated date of Thursday, June 4, but safety concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic have altered the traditional ceremony in just about every other way.
Instead of the Augusta Civic Center, this year’s commencement is slated for Messalonskee’s Performing Arts Center. The time, too, has been changed with the proceedings starting at 5 rather than 7 p.m. to adjust to what is expected to be a longer ceremony.
But probably the biggest change, and the hardest one for friends and loved ones of graduates to accept, is that safety precautions mandated by the state as a result of the pandemic will limit the number of graduates in the PAC at any one time to 10.
The same mandated protocol restricts the number of well wishers in the audience to no more than 40. “I think people are upset because we are not doing the traditional graduation that our community has come to expect,” Messalonskee principal Paula Callan said. “Unfortunately, we are limited in how we can replicate some of those experiences, and I think that was what was frustrating for all us to understand.”
Nobody, Callan said, ever envisioned that graduation would have to be held in this fashion, but she said health concerns have to be the priority. Callan said she sympathizes greatly for graduates and their families.
“I truly recognize and understand their frustration and disappointment,” she said. “I would love to be at the Civic Center on June 4 at 7 p.m. handing out diplomas and celebrating with these kids and their families. This is not anything that we would ever dream would we have to do to celebrate these students. This is unprecedented.”
Callan said the school district has tried its best to stage a ceremony that graduates and their loved ones and friends will find meaningful and uplifting. But that goal is difficult to achieve given the stipulations outlined in a six-page document released by the state covering graduation protocol. For example, Callan in a letter to Messalonskee parents about a month ago wrote that the PAC would be limited to two graduates and eight audience members at a time.
But the restrictions subsequently eased to allow for 50 people in social gatherings, thus making it possible to have 10 graduates and 40 spectators in the PAC.
Callan said some students suggested moving the ceremony to an outdoor venue such as the Skowhegan Drive-In. While the district was open to such suggestions, Callan said the mandated safety measures remain more limiting than most people realize.
For example, she said, while the Skowhegan Drive-In offers a wide open space, it is not large enough – given pandemic restrictions – to accommodate enough cars to meet the size of this year’s graduating class.
“Skowhegan only has enough parking for approximately 141 or 142 cars,” she said. “We have 181 graduates. So not every student would even have been able to have one car present.”
In electing to use the PAC, Callan said she and others involved in the planning wanted seniors to have a final opportunity to be in the school building before receiving their diploma. They also wanted to replicate as much of the traditional graduation experience as possible under the pandemic limitations.
“All the decisions to put this event into place were not something we just put together overnight,” Callan said. “Every time we thought we had put together a great plan we would hear a different directive from the governor’s office that you couldn’t do this or that you couldn’t do that.”
As it turns out, though, the final plan Callan and her staff devised met all the stipulations that the state issued.
“So we felt good about that,” Callan said.