SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Schools had to get creative with their graduation ceremonies this year, and South Kingstown High School kicked its video celebration off with a Zoom-like performance of “Pomp and Circumstance” by its student band.
Like hundreds of schools around the country, South Kingstown was forced by COVID-19 to forgo a traditional gathering in a crowded venue and instead held its celebration mostly online. The ESKape vocal ensemble also used the Zoom format to deliver a performance of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
With all the turmoil and uncertainty caused by the virus, some happy news came out of the end of the 2020 school year for South Kingstown as senior Aidan Mulligan was able to complete his classes and graduate. Mulligan was severely injured in a March 2019 car accident, causing a long recovery and delaying his graduation.
In a video clip at the start of the ceremony, Mulligan addressed the class and noted that about a year ago, U.S. Sen. John McCain had died. As a young Navy pilot, McCain had been shot down over Vietnam, held captive and was frequently tortured before ultimately being released. He went on to become a long-serving senator and was the 2008 Republican nominee for U.S. president.
“This goes to show it’s not what happens, it’s what you do,” Mulligan said. “You can’t wait for the storm to pass, you have to learn how to dance in the rain and deal with the hardships in life.”
The Class of 2019 chose to make a gift to two organizations that played key roles in his recovery. The class will make a $2,000 gift to the Rhode Island Hospital inpatient rehabilitation unit, and a $2,000 gift to the Spaulding Rehabilitation traumatic brain injury research center in Boston.
Class of 2020 president Joe Greene didn’t mince words about the fact that the regular traditions of the senior year of high school were cruelly interrupted.
“This absolutely sucks. There’s not much more to say about it and I’m sure you’ve all heard enough about the coronavirus,” he said. “I want today to be about us, like it should be.”
He said he procrastinated on his speech that was designed to sum up their school lives in just 3 to 5 minutes.
“We are a very important class,” Greene said, and referred to his classmates as part of “the guinea pig class.”
He listed changes in class schedules, homework grade percentages, lunch schedules, changes in staff and administration and more.
“Since day one, we’ve been proving everyone wrong,” he said. “We’ve stood strong no matter what gets thrown at us, and we’ve made it through some pretty rough times, including right now.”
Greene thanked the teachers and staff as well.
“We love you all, and we’re sad that this year had to end with you sitting on Zoom calls and staring at black screens and not getting proper goodbyes. We know you didn’t sign up for this, and neither did we.”
Greene congratulated his classmates.
“We got through all four years, and I don’t know about you but it feels like it went by way too fast,” he said.
Valedictorian Mayayi Izzo said that individually and globally, the past few months had been filled with challenges.
“One thing I’ve learned through all this adversity is that our SK community is resilient,” she said. “I’ve seen everyone in our community step up to the plate, so to speak.”
Izzo said it’s difficult to reflect on the last four years, what with what’s happened over the past three months.
“You may be feeling angry, frustrated and disappointed that our senior year was cut short,” she said. “It breaks my heart that we can’t be together to celebrate today, but we’ll see each other again soon.”
Even with a live audience absent, traditions continued. Each member of the class, including Mulligan, got the chance to walk across the stage in their cap and gown, looking out on photos of their classmates that had been placed in the seats of the school auditorium.
On Monday the seniors received their diplomas in a unique way – by driving or riding to the high school’s parking lot and having it delivered to them personally by Principal Chip McGair, who wore a face mask and ensured a contact-less delivery.
“It’s a weird situation where I watched myself graduate,” Ellie Beck said after receiving her diploma. “It’s sort of like a mind out of body type thing, like, is it official? Now I’m done? It was weird having may last day of school online, signing out of class.”
The class plans to have a first-year reunion when it is safe to gather to do so, McGair said.