Wearing graduation caps and gowns, the Hamburg Area High School Class of 2020 walked across the stage to receive their diplomas one at a time during their allotted 5-minutes.
Family only cheered from the seats. Seniors were allowed up to four family members to attend their graduation. Everyone was required to wear a mask.
Each senior selected a five-minute time slot between May 26 and May 29.
“We are doing our best to make the 2020 graduation special and unique, while adhering to the Governor’s orders,” said Superintendent Richard Mextorf.
Hamburg Area School District provided each senior the opportunity to walk across the stage and be recognized while adhering to social distancing guidelines. School personnel and parents wore the appropriate protective equipment, he said.
“This will allow us to recognize every senior and provide an important right-of-passage that every senior deserves,” said Mextorf.
The hallways were decorated for the occasion and the stage was set for commencement with Principal Christopher Beissel, Dean of Students Damian Buggy and Superintendent Mextorf congratulating the graduates one at a time, including Valedictorian Tamandeep Saggi and Salutatorian Lauren Shebby.
Hamburg Class President Paiton Albrecht led a video project, for which each graduate was filmed walking across the stage. The recordings of all the walks will be used in a virtual graduation video, including principal’s welcome, student speeches, awards, and Superintendent’s Graduation Proclamation. The virtual graduation video will be broadcast on the district’s Youtube page on June 6 at 1 p.m.
“It was definitely a little upsetting that we were unable to have a traditional graduation; however, under the current circumstances I understand why it was necessary. To ensure the safety of us seniors and our families, a virtual graduation was definitely the most sensible option,” said Hamburg's Class of 2020 Valedictorian Tamandeep Saggi. “I really liked how all of us seniors were still able to have our own stage moment.”
Saggi also liked how there were multiple places for photo-ops. She is also extremely grateful to still able to deliver her speech that it will be part of the virtual graduation aired on June 6 for everyone to watch, she said.
“This event offered a sense of closure to me and my family,” said Saggi. “I feel like if we did not have our own stage moment where we were handed our diplomas, it would have left us with a sort of incompleteness.”
Hamburg graduate Kelly Varga said having graduation this way is both good and bad.
“It's a good thing if you don't like people. It’s a bad thing because you can't have all of your friends watching you,” said Varga. “I loved having this experience. It was awesome.”
The event offered her Mom and Dad an opportunity to be together in one place, as well as her brother, to celebrate her high school graduation.
"Of course, we're all upset that a traditional ceremony could not be held due to the current circumstances. I wish my teachers, friends, coaches, and neighbors were there to see me on stage," said Hamburg graduate Quinn Holl, Hawk Happenings Editor in Chief. "However, I'm so incredibly thankful that HAHS made the decision to offer us seniors a chance to have our moment on stage: the moment we envisioned since we were young and worked 13 years to experience."
The event offered an opportunity for her family to share her one shining moment together.
"You only graduate high school once, so while a majority of my family were unable to attend my walk across the stage, at least several of my closest family members were there to support me," she said.
"Thank you so much, HAHS, for thinking of us seniors during this time of uncertainty," added Holl. "I always felt appreciated and loved at Hamburg. While my senior year was cut short, at least I can leave HAHS with a wonderful collection of memories that I will forever cherish."
“I’m just proud of the maturity and understanding of our seniors during this time. They’ve shown tremendous flexibility and as a group have lost several rights-of-passage throughout the COVID-19 closure,” said Hamburg Area High School Principal Christopher Beissel. “I’m glad that we were able to provide them a stage moment that they’ve worked so hard for over the past 12 years.”
Beissel is also thankful for the hard work of the graduation committee to find a solution that both met the needs of graduating seniors and their parents, as well as complied with the restrictions on social gatherings.
“The committee, which was comprised of students, parents, teachers, and administration, worked collectively to find solutions to a very challenging situation,” he said. “Overall, I believe we were able to provide our seniors and their families a special graduation experience despite the challenging circumstances.”
Hamburg Senior Class Adviser Terri McCarthy-Wright — librarian, gifted education teacher, Leo Club Adviser, Student Council Adviser, SAP Team Member and Hamburg Area Education Foundation Vice President — headed that committee. They met virtually twice a week to discuss possible options.
“It was difficult to plan because there were many limitations due to the Governor’s and PA Department of Education mandates, but our solution gives students and families a unique graduation experience,” said McCarthy-Wright.
Personally, graduation is very important to her not only as senior class advisor, but also as a parent to two graduates of her own this year, one from college and one from high school.
“I was thinking of them as I was planning all the events,” she said.
In addition to graduation, McCarthy-Wright coordinated the Adopt a Senior program, the senior card shower and collected donations to help pay for each seniors’ cap and gown, class shirt, Hawks COVID-19 face mask and to make sure each senior receives a yearbook.
The Hamburg Area Education Foundation awarded the Class of 2020 a senior community service grant to pay $3,300 for caps and gowns. The Hamburg Lions Club paid for t-shirts for all 183 seniors. All the other generous individual contributions from the Hamburg community are paying for the masks and yearbooks, she said.
“I’m so grateful for everyone’s support,” said McCarthy-Wright.
For Hamburg graduate Ethan Long and his parents Kolleen and David Long and his sister Gracie, they are grateful for the opportunity to celebrate graduation with an in-person ceremony.
“It's been a long road to graduation, and it was nice to be there in person to celebrate our son's accomplishment. So many of the staff knew him and the other students by name. It was pretty personal!" said Kolleen.
"I like that the school district took the time to try and find a solution that worked for everyone while still following all the health guidelines that have been set," said Ethan. "I was happy that they still gave all students an opportunity to walk across the stage. I was appreciative that my family was there cheering me on."
"It was encouraging to see the school, graduates' families and the greater community come together to come up with creative solutions,” said Kolleen. “While they may be missing out on some of the traditional hallmarks of a senior year, I really think the seniors have many ways to mark this important milestone, graduating high school."
"I think most of the students understand it's not just Hamburg that has to do this, it's all schools across the country. We know there is stuff going on and it couldn't be the way it originally would be. I think we'll be fine," said Ethan.
"We should all understand there is no road map here, so we appreciate all the district is doing to support our community," said Kolleen.
Ethan is also a BCTC graduate and will be pursuing a career as an electrician. He works now at Weis in Hamburg.