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Area senior classes get signature moment

OBSERVER Photo by Brian Ferry Seniors in Warren, Pa., had a graduation that won’t be forgotten.

WARREN, Pa. — This was no ordinary commencement ceremony. How could it be?

Three weeks ago tonight, members of the Warren High School Class of 2020 traveled by car across the Kinzua Dam. At the mid-point, each graduate dressed in gown and cap was able to get out of their vehicle to receive their diploma from Principal Jeff Flickner.

“It’s been tough,” Warren High School’s Mariah Bailey told reporter Brian Ferry of the Times Observer. “This has been extremely special. They made everybody feel included.”

One moment in time. A memory that will last forever.

This weekend, school districts across Chautauqua County will celebrate an extraordinary group of high school seniors who have endured what seems to be an endless summer. On March 13, many of these students attended class for the final time.

COVID-19, since its discovery in the United States, has not discriminated. Everyone has been affected by this novel virus.

Millions have been infected and hundreds of thousands have died from this diabolical illness. Others, who may have never gotten sick, have been placed on furlough or permanently lost jobs they held for years.

For more than two months, we have been unable to get together or see older family members. Only in the last two weeks has there been a sense of some normalcy — and even then we are all wearing masks.

High school graduation, however, is a once in a lifetime moment. There’s no do-over.

For this class of seniors, the time away combined with the waiting has brought a roller coaster of emotion. Early on, some had elation over the unexpected time off and – because they are teenagers – being able to sleep in past noon.

As those days off turned into weeks, anxiety set in. What was going to happen to the spring sports seasons? What about the proms and senior class getaways?

After a major sense of disappointment from state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement in early May that students would not return to school for the remainder of the year, this group has — as young adults tend to do — bounced back. There’s now a growing anticipation about being together for one last time.

It’s a chance to laugh, love and cry. Most importantly, it’s a chance to go out on their terms in ways that have never been done before.

Let’s face it. If you have been to one graduation ceremony, including your own, you’ve been to all.

That is definitely not the case this year as those who attended “the best dam graduation” in Warren could attest. This year’s ceremony — for all school districts — may likely be the most memorable of all.

Consider some of these interesting notes:

¯ Fredonia is relaxing its tradition of no messages on graduation caps when its class members come together for ceremonies at the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon.

¯ Dunkirk’s victory bell will be proudly rung by graduates as ceremonies, normally held at King Concert Hall, move to Karl Hoeppner Field on Saturday morning at 10:30.

¯ Two separate ceremonies will be taking place in Westfield to accommodate all the families.

¯ Southwestern will be holding an elaborate event that begins at 5:30 and lasts through 9 p.m. It, like many others, will be broadcast on social media. Parking passes are required for admittance.

¯ Sherman Central, after Cuomo’s announcement to allow for 150, changed its ceremonies from a parade to a gathering at the football field.

Be assured, all districts are requesting those in attendance to wear masks and socially distance. Those are similar to the requests made when we enter a grocery store.

What is very different, however, is the pride and spirit this special group of graduates have shown through these tough and uncertain times that have been filled with plenty of disappointment. This weekend, however, is for them.

We applaud their perseverance and unwavering commitment to excellence during a worldwide crisis. Truly, this class — and these ceremonies — are as unique as you can get.

John D’Agostino is regional editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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