NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — This unique moment in history forced the Narragansett High School seniors of the Class of 2020 to change their graduation ceremony, trading an auditorium of cheering family and friends for a scaled-down event with the famed Towers and the town beach as a scenic backdrop.
The ceremony was recorded in order to be streamed online, since rules are still in place to prevent large gatherings because of COVID-19.
That meant only each senior and some immediate family could be present for the graduates, dressed in their cap and gowns, to individually walk up to the town gazebo to receive their diplomas from several of the school administrators.
“I realize this is not what we expected,” senior class president Leah Wilbur said. “But I am so proud of my class for staying strong through it all.”
The class lived through strange times, Wilbur said, such as worrying about “killer clowns on the loose” as freshmen, learning the latest TikTok trends as juniors, being stunned by school shootings and protesting climate change.
“And now we are living through a global pandemic and yet we have persevered,” she said. “The Class of 2020 has truly seen it all and even still we have made it through.”
The class improvised in other ways as well, by having a June 11 senior car parade, in which the graduates rode in vehicles from the Dunes Club and down Ocean Road to conclude at the entrance of the high school. Parents and friends sat in cars parked along the route, or stood on the sidewalks of Ocean Road, to honk their horns and cheer them on.
The parade was a substitution for the senior Mariner tradition of walking the halls of the Pier Middle and Elementary Schools one last time.
Principal Daniel Warner reminded the students that commencement means a fresh start, a new beginning.
“Over the last few months, many have spoken out about the unfairness of our current global situation and the impact it’s had on our schools and graduates,” he said. “But it does not and will not take away from your success and accomplishments.”
Focus not on the last 12 weeks, but on what you’ve done over the past 12 years, he advised them.
“The past 12 weeks is small potatoes compared to where you are, and where you are going,” he said.
The principal also talked about the unrest, anxiety and despair throughout the country.
“We need your help in fighting this. We are most definitely stronger together, and we are not alone, nor have we ever been alone,” he said.
Supt. of Schools Peter Cummings echoed the sense of unfairness that, just as the students were planning to enjoy the most memorable experiences of their young lives, they were told to social distance, and had to endure canceled classes, sports, activities and events.
“For that I am just so sorry, and I know that it’s a tremendous loss for you and all of us that care about you,” he said. “Yet despite it all, you persevered … you supported one another, just as you have your entire lives as you’ve grown up in our schools.”
The class showed grit and determination, the superintendent said.
“You showed you are a force to be reckoned with,” he said.
Commencement speaker Christopher Dolos, a chemistry teacher at NHS, acknowledged that the class also lost out on a lot of “lasts,” in their high school time when the doors abruptly shut in March.
“Most importantly is the lost goodbyes. That last day in March happened so abruptly, there were no real goodbyes,” he said. “We all missed saying our proper goodbyes to you. You deserved so much more, and I’m sorry you didn’t get it.”
Dolos called the students heroes because of the sacrifices they had to make without a choice.
“You were told to give up what is most important to you and exchange it for what was required for the greater good of humanity. That’s pretty remarkable, and I commend you for what you’ve done,” he said.
Dolos said the class must move forward, try new things and seize opportunities.
“The future is still huge and open,” he said. “Life gets really fun, but it can also get really hard. Find a balance – work hard, play hard, as the saying goes.”
The valedictorian, Alison McCadden, said graduation is usually a time for young adults to redefine themselves, and focus on career and life and to leave “the fixing” to others.
“But if this public health crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t live our lives with blinders up, focused on ourselves and only ourselves. This is perhaps the worst mistake we can make, both as a class and as a generation,” she said.
The class gift will be a tree for the NHS campus, along with a bench to go under it.
“As the years go by, this tree will grow as we do and serve as a living reminder of everything that the Class of 2020 was to this school,” Brynn Stillwell, the student presenter, said.
The video also featured a performance of “Finale B” from the musical “Rent,” sung by NHS chorus and alumni from the classes of 2015 to 2023.