NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown High School Class of 2020 officially became graduates Sunday in a virtual ceremony, capping off a weekend of events to try and best honor the class and celebrate their accomplishments while sticking to state guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was just delighted with it and I know we got nothing but positive feedback from the community,” North Kingstown Superintendent Phil Auger said. “We were really trying to put something together that would be meaningful for everyone and a real celebration and I think we got just the right mix.”
Since school went fully online on March 23 and the later announcement that no in-person classes would be allowed to be held for the remainder of the 2019/20 school year, and with large gatherings such as graduations still banned, North Kingstown High School worked on ways to try and give their seniors the most normal experience as possible.
On Saturday, the school held a day long graduation ceremony, where students individually were able to walk to receive their diplomas while practicing social distancing and wearing masks along with the traditional cap and gown before having the chance to have their photo taken from a safe distance without a mask, while a virtual ceremony was held Sunday evening with the traditional speeches.
“I think parents were very impressed with the graduation piece of it, (in) which students actually walked the stage,” Auger said.
However, perhaps the key event of the weekend, and one that may become a new tradition in town, was the graduates car parade, as over a hundred cars, trucks, vans and even a boat were decked out in Skipper black and gold paraded through the streets of North Kingstown escorted by police as friends, family members and community members gathered on the sidewalks to celebrate the graduates.
“That was a big success and it would not surprise me if we have just created a new tradition in NK where this is something that continues no matter what the rest of the graduation schedule looks like for future classes to come,” Auger said. “It was a real nice celebration of North Kingstown and to see so many people out there, to get the support of our police and fire I think is just a great thing.”
The sentiment was shared by many who attended the parade, including NKHS junior Greg Piturro.
“I would be happy to do something like this, and interested. It fits all of the bills of social distancing and it works for everyone, even if it’s not what’s been normally (done),” Piturro said.
“Oh it’s fabulous, so much fun. I hope they continue it,” his mother Suzanne Piturro added.
Many teachers showed up to support their students, including Class of 2020 advisor and math teacher Lisa Garcia, who is also the mother of a 2020 NKHS graduate.
“I cannot believe how many kids are participating and the community cheering on everybody, it’s so much fun,” Garcia said. “It’s such a great way to cap off the graduation weekend.”
Still, as both the advisor of the class and parent of a graduate, the moment was bittersweet.
“It was difficult watching them cross the stage just knowing the adversity that they’d overcome and knowing that their experiences kind of help prepare them to go on to the next part of life, so I’m hopeful for what comes next for the class,” Garcia said. “I think they’re going to do great things with lots of kindness and compassion.”
“The two greatest words are time and patience and these students have definitely embodied that spirit and the fact that they’re out here having a good time in this very unique way is something the town’s never going to forget,” NKHS history teacher Serena Mason said.
As a tribute to the class, Mason brought along a collection of cardboard cutouts of Baby Yoda, a character from the Disney Plus series “The Mandalorian” that quickly rose to prominence at the end of last year, all decked out in gold beads.
“I call all my students minions and then this year Baby Yoda came onto the scene, so they occasionally make appearances in my history classroom and they’ve helped us tear down the Berlin Wall (and) they’ve explained the Iron Curtain, so who better to turn out than the family to wish the students the best of luck in their future endeavors,” Mason said.
The parade route started and ended in three different locations: NKHS and the town’s two middle schools, Wickford Middle School and Davisville Middle School, with all three groups looping through all three locations so they could be seen by everyone.
“I think just about every convertible in North Kingstown was taken up for this parade and I noticed there was a boat and a few other really imaginative cars, so just to see people take that kind of time to decorate stuff and to really celebrate, it was just really nice to see,” Auger said.
Overall, while the graduates had lost so much in terms of the usual pomp and circumstance, Auger was happy for the graduates for making the best out of the situation.
“There’s so many rights of passage that you have as a senior, particularly in the fourth quarter of your senior year, that they obviously either had to improvise or just not have and to have this all culminate with an opportunity for them to share with their families of walking across the stage and graduating and then being with one another for this car parade on such a beautiful day was just a really great way to end it that I’m really happy for them,” Auger said.
In the midst of the weekend celebrations however, tragedy struck the NKHS community as Athletic Director Dick Fossa died from heart complications Saturday at the age of 61. Auger decided that despite the loss, ceremonies should still go on in Fossa’s memory.
“Dick Fossa was a real special person,” Auger said. “You can go on social media and just see people from all over the state, every other athletic department recognizes him as just this role model of a guy who has this long career in high school athletics and he’s so good at what he does.”
“We really miss him, and his effect on our community was tremendous and I know that is true also for Narragansett where he was before us and everywhere he’s worked he had enormous influence and people are going to miss him,” Auger added.
Details on the starting date for next school year are yet to be determined and are dependent on the state, but should be expected around the start of the fiscal year on July 1.