On a hot, sunny afternoon more reminiscent of July than late May, Bedford High School (BHS) seniors yesterday drove by the main entrance of the building they left forever on March 11 to pick up their caps and gowns. Supported by an energetic faculty and administrative staff, a plan was developed to turn the normally routine dropping off of books and school equipment and picking up of graduation garb into a fun event that would inject a note of celebration into the disappointment that has pervaded this year’s many canceled activities.
Organized by the Bedford High School Parents Association and principal Heather Galante, the high school grounds were transformed into a mini-parade route welcoming seniors and their families driving by in their cars. Jeff Wardwell, police liaison officer to the high school, blocked off the route and waved everyone into the driveway as they turned off Great Road. Vehicles decorated with everything from signs to glitter to balloons streamed into the driveway where an efficient and enthusiastic team of teachers and administrators accepted returning textbooks and computer equipment. This material was spirited immediately into a 7-day quarantine in the Large Group Instruction Classroom as required by the Board of Health. In return, seniors were given their caps and gowns, cumulative academic records and artwork, the class T-shirts, and goodie bags filled with treats. One final addition was a letter they wrote to their future selves at the end of ninth grade to be opened when they completed high school. Cars were then directed to loop through the lower parking lot which was lined with faculty members hooting their congratulations and best wishes. Banners, signs, bubble machines, music, and hoopla completed the send-off as both students and teachers blew kisses to one another, reached out their arms in mock-hugs, and shouted the good-byes they had been denied when the lock-down began so abruptly.
Sarah Leshay, a faculty member, stood by her car waving a sign and constantly replenishing a party machine that blew cascades of bubbles across the cars exiting the parking lot. “I think this is such a fantastic way for us to say good-bye to them. We’re not sure what the rest of the year is going to hold so to be able to see the kids and put eyes on them one last time is just so important.”
Faculty member Roseanne Ham stood by in another spot tooting a horn and waving to passing seniors. Ham teaches physical education and health and is responsible for the most recent iteration of the Letters to Our Future Selves project at BHS. At the end of ninth grade Ham prompts her classes to write a letter about themselves as they are at that time to the self they imagine they might be three years hence. She encourages them to think about their values, friends, and life experiences as well as their interests in music, food, and pop culture. The goal is to give the writer a point of comparison as a way of appreciating personal growth and change and to encourage reflection on how a person’s beliefs and preferences develop as they mature. “Some take it more seriously than others,” she said. “But I often get emails and notes from kids saying how much they appreciated the opportunity in retrospect.”
Teacher Sandy Arena stressed how important she thought marking this milestone is for the young people in the class. “This is a rite of passage….I am still close friends with a ton of people from my high school class.” Acknowledging that this has been a tough year for seniors missing out on the prom and other events, Arena added, “There are benefits and negatives right now, but one of the benefits is that they’ve learned to communicate in a whole new way….this is about community…they see that people are rallying for them.”
As waves of cars bearing members of the Class of 2020 honked and tooted their way through the afternoon’s event it was hard not to be struck by the goodwill and generosity of the teachers, administration, parents, and members of the Bedford Police force assisting with traffic control. As Arena said, Bedford has rallied to the side of all its local graduates – not limited only to those at the high school – and demonstrated its desire to turn the unexpected into thoughtful recognition and good memories.
Buried at the bottom of the goodie bag was one last gift to each graduate: a T-shirt designed by a parent committee bearing the logo: “Class of 2020: Senior Skip Day Champs.” This is a tongue-in-cheek reference to an unofficial tradition where seniors agree to skip a day of classes close to the end of the year to revel in their new status as almost-alumni. Like everything else in this Year of the Pandemic, even the humor gets turned on its head.