A Return to Tradition

Graduations will be getting back to normal 

A year after the Class of 2020 held commencement amid a pandemic, the Class of 2021 will bring another historic school year to an end with a return to something resembling normalcy. 

Last year, over three days, Beacon High School graduates received their diplomas after walking alone across a makeshift stage on the athletic field behind the high school. Each student had the opportunity to make a statement with their families watching from the sidelines. The processions were recorded and shown for students and their families three weeks later at the Hyde Park Drive-in Theatre. 

Haldane High School had its traditional outdoor ceremony on campus but split the class into two sessions and limited each graduate to two spectators. A parking lot was marked off to enforce social distancing and the ceremony was livestreamed for relatives and friends who could not attend.

This year will be far different. Beacon High School will return on June 11 to Dutchess Stadium and Haldane on June 19 will have its outdoor ceremony with fewer restrictions and, as customary, past graduates in attendance. 

“Our students are excited to have a normal graduation — they are exhausted from COVID-19 and challenging courses,” said Beacon High School Principal Elisa Soto. “Their parents are thrilled that we have the opportunity to celebrate the culmination of a journey.” 

Both schools will follow the latest state guidance, which restricts attendance at outdoor events based on the size of the venue. Neither commencement will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from attendees due to ample space for social distancing.

Each of the 220 graduating Beacon seniors will be allowed to invite five guests to the ceremony at Dutchess Stadium, which can seat 4,500 people. Masks will be required. In the event of rain, an open-air ceremony will be held at the high school on June 12 or 13.

Haldane’s 70 graduates will also be able to invite five guests, and masks will be required. The school will honor graduates from the classes of 1970 and 1971, as well. The rain date is June 20, also at the Haldane campus. 

“Last year people were incredibly grateful for whatever could be provided,” said Haldane High School Principal Julia Sniffen. “Now, so many people are vaccinated and so many people feel like we should just be able to have a normal graduation. They’re just done.”

Graduation will end a school year that Beacon Superintendent Matt Landahl said exceeded his expectations, despite seemingly endless complications. He recalled a push early on for schools to go (or stay) all-remote, “but we trusted our model” of contact tracing and quarantining after a positive test result, he said. 

While the Beacon district has reported 159 positive cases among students and staff as of Wednesday (May 26), and Haldane 55, both schools managed to avoid sustained outbreaks or shutdowns. 

“To the average person, [the school year] probably looked like a lot to navigate,” Sniffen said. “But unless you’ve lived it, you can’t even understand the day-to-day navigation. There were so many layers — I don’t even have a comparable to what’s gone into it. It most certainly has been a very, very challenging year on many, many levels.”

Both schools anticipate a full in-person return this fall. After the announcement on May 24 that New York City will abandon remote learning in September, guidance is expected soon from the governor’s office for the rest of the state. 

“We’ve proven this past year that we can be flexible,” Landahl said. “We’re ready to be flexible again.” 

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