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Chester County Press

Kennett Honors the Class of 2020

07/30/2020 06:00AM ● By Steven Hoffman

Dr. Dusty Blakey could not have imagined when he took the reins as superintendent of the Kennett Consolidated School District in January what was in store in the next few months: A pandemic swept the nation, and Kennett was faced with closing schools and halting all related activities for the remainder of the school year. The traditional graduation ceremony for seniors at Kennett High School could not take place as scheduled.

With all that in mind, however, Blakey was determined that the members of the Class of 2020 -- even though they would miss spring events, prom and sports -- would be able to celebrate their graduation in some manner.

Blakey, the administration, and the Kennett School Board set about to design a commencement that was safe and ceremonial. it was obvious at the graduation ceremony on Saturday, July 25 that they succeeded.

It wasn’t an easy task, however. Senior Class advisor Peg Hughes said she and her colleagues designed seven models and worked up until the last week to finalize details.

The planning resulted in a two-part event featuring drive-through ceremonies at the Kennett Middle School with identical speeches and programs at each one.

They chose the middle school because of the sprawling real estate surrounding it and the ample parking in front of the building.

True, the students would miss out on the traditional procession down Kennett High School’s elegant front staircase, but the middle school offered the best location to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

In the end, the toned-down extravaganza was almost flawless in how it was executed. 

“I thought it was awesome. Given the circumstances, it turned out well,” Blakey said as he watched the cars exit after the first ceremony. He also said he was pleased at how the planners had managed the safety of the event, and how the screens in the parking lot enabled everyone to see what was going on.

The graduation was divided into two sessions: one at 8 a.m. and the other at 10 a.m. to minimize crowd size. Families came in their cars, one student per car, and they parked in the lot facing one of two giant screens that displayed the events. When the time came for the recitation of the graduates and the distribution of the diploma cases, they lined up in the driveway, the students got out, and they had their moment to pose in front of the temporary stage brought in for the occasion.

Assistant high school principal Eileen Rudisill, who read the names of each student as they walked by, explained that she had established a system to sync the cars, the students and the announcement of names. It helped, she said, to have known most of the kids personally when she saw them.

The drivers for their part came through in an orderly manner. They all had a chance in front of the dais to take a picture of their son or daughter – sans face mask for a moment – and then proceed. Some families whose cars had open roofs stood and took pictures from there. A few even brought their family dog. Two or three shot off confetti blowers.

During the 8 a.m. ceremony, members of the Hockessin Fire Company were present with their antique truck to honor graduate Sean Perrone, the son of assistant chief Robert Perrone.

Upon receipt of their certificates, the graduates walked the path in front of the school to bump elbows with school board president Joe Meola, superintendent Blakey and assistant superintendent Michael Barber.

High School principal Jeremy Hritz, who served as master of ceremonies, told the audience in his greeting that the ceremonies were somewhat abbreviated from the traditional program as a result of the circumstances.

Still, there were the student speeches, a taped musical interlude, the invocation, and Pledge of Allegiance. The theme for the day was “resilience.”

Milady Lagunas delivered the invocation in English and Spanish.  She compared the students’ journey through high school to climbing a flight of stairs with that last step being the toughest.

Class President Marty Tuley said, “We had a journey to the finish that we had to complete alone,” referring to the last four months of school closing.   

Olivia Beldyk referred to their senior year as, “The class that experienced the most snow days without snow..” She added, “We grew in unique ways.”

Emily Taylor compared their class to the graduates of the 1940s who turned into the greatest generation. “We spent half the year in a different kind of war,” she said.

Jordan Reidenberg, speaking from his wheelchair and accompanied by his service dog, Jolly, talked about learning to deal with challenges. “I’ve been dealing with challenges for as long as I can remember,” he said.

Jillian Rowan said, “This was not the ending we envisioned, but the unexpected did not dismantle high hopes.”

Emily Matthias, representing the Class of 2014, welcomed the graduates into the alumni association. She reiterated the irony of comparing her distress when her graduation was delayed a day for rain to the current graduates facing the overwhelming disappointments brought on by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Hughes presented the Advisor’s Cup to Class President Tuley for service to school and community.

Hritz presented the Rupert Cup, the school’s highest honor, to Gemma Morrison.

In his closing words, Hritz announced that the class members had collectively received $7.4 million in scholarship money for the future.

He told them, “The Class of 2020 is not about what’s missed, but what’s ahead. You will be problem-solvers.”