Parents, community get creative to celebrate graduates

As the end of the school year changes drastically for many seniors, the community is taking traditions into their own hands.

Many districts have announced plans to make sure seniors are still getting the memories their predecessors had. The plans have been as varied as the districts themselves — rescheduling award ceremonies to be online, postponing graduation for hopes of a traditional ceremony or supporting students holding a one-year reunion.

“We saw a lot of stuff on social media about kids being really frustrated, not being able to have graduation and stuff like that,” said Julie Hudson, co-owner of Hudson Fields. “We saw everybody kind of groaning about it on Facebook, ‘The kids aren’t going to have anywhere to go and the virtual graduation still isn’t good enough,’ and just so many people were disappointed. We thought to ourselves, ‘Well, we have all of this land right here on Rt. 1 that we use for events anyway.’”

Located in Milton, Hudson Fields has 18 acres that typically is home to lacrosse, field hockey, soccer and rugby games, as well as concerts, weddings or family reunions.

So Mrs. Hudson and her husband, Christian, put out a call on their Facebook page offering their property as a blank canvas for a summer “Graduation Spectacular.” The response was large: more than 150 comments rained in, tagging school districts, and the post was shared more than 700 times.

“You have to adapt your thinking, like everything about this is new. There’s nobody living — or very few people in the world living — who saw the last pandemic,” Mr. Hudson said. “Literally everything from work at home, to teach kids at home remotely — every business model for every business is having to adapt and think: how do we do our life ceremonies, like weddings and funerals and graduations, and other major milestones in people’s lives?”

Hudson Fields isn’t looking to charge anyone, Mr. Hudson added.

“Everyone’s kind of in this together,” he said. “We have a lot of room and a clear schedule.”

They just made improvements to the property for Winter Wonderfest and they have a private roadway that runs throughout, which could lead to possibilities like drive-thru graduations or private parades, Mrs. Hudson said.

“Any number of those things,” she said. “That would allow the students and their families and friends to be on the property but remain socially distant and away from each other, so we can comply by all the rules.”

Mr. Hudson added that this is a tough spot for a lot of people.

“But that shouldn’t be the takeaway from the kids graduating,” he said. “They’ll always remember the pandemic but hopefully they remember some good things to come out of it.”

Michelle Lucas was likewise taken by the spirit of community. When she was driving through her neighborhood she spotted a sign in a person’s yard recognizing a class of 2020 graduate.

“I think that was kind of like my ‘Aha!’ moment,” she said.

As a photographer, she wanted to help the seniors celebrate their final year. So she and her two fellow photographer friends, Alisha Patrick-Cooks and Neko Stratton, planned two days over the weekend for photo shoots on The Green in Dover. The group awaiting final approval and is planning tentatively to hold another session the last weekend in May.

“I just feel so bad for all the seniors this year, whether it’s high school or college,” she said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through as they’re not having their final months of school and final time to be together with friends and just have those celebration moments with their friends and family.”

The photo sessions were free and participants had 20 photos. Masks weren’t required while following the social distancing guidelines, but for closer shots, masks were necessary. Ms. Lucas encouraged participants to have fun with decorating and adding personal touches to them for the photos. Students could come out in their caps and gowns, or prom attire, or however they wanted.

“Some of them got really creative and we had a lot of fun,” she said.

A group of four Dover High School friends came out together with 2020 balloons, another got her photos done in her prom dress, while a college grad who is headed to law school was excited to be photographed in front of the courthouse, Ms. Lucas said.

Looking ahead to the next photo session, Ms. Lucas said the photos act as a way to capture the work that went into their education.

“These pictures could be your last memory possibly of your senior year, so it’s not so much about the cap and gown,” she noted. “But bring some friends, like the group of four girls from Dover High … they just came together and they were able to get some last photos done of them together that, depending on what their future plans are, it may be a while before they see each other again.”

Beyond creative thinking in the community, there’s the parents of seniors, who also want to make the end of the year special.

With prom hopes dashed for the class of 2020, parents are taking it upon themselves to give their students a way to celebrate. Middletown High School parents organized a car parade for the high school’s original prom date, May 8. It’s an effort similar to what other parents have done to support students outside of district programming.

“We just want to make sure that their efforts are recognized in some way,” said Robyn Figurell, a parent.

She noted that the district’s high school principals are planning something, but given the current restrictions, it’s unclear what that will look like, or when that will be.

“We can’t guarantee that all those seniors will be available for those days; they might be away at college at that point and unable to return,” she noted.

The parade extends beyond Middletown’s seniors, too, to include the college, charter and private school seniors who live in the area who aren’t able to celebrate like they typically would.

The car parade(s) proceed throughout the different neighborhoods where seniors live — from places like Willow Grove Mill, to Woodlawn, to Bay Berry, to Augustine Creek, to Appoquin Farms and Middletown Village.

Between 5 and 7:30 p.m. cars will parade through nearly 40 different areas to cheer on seniors. The cars will run through central Middletown, the northwest and northeast sections (above Del. 299 and west/east of U.S. 13) and the southwest and southeast sections (below Del. 299 and west/east of U.S. 13).

“We all care and want the best for all of our seniors,” she said. “It’s a rough time for them — whether they’re going to college and not sure what that’s going to look like come fall, or going out to the workforce and not sure what that’s going to look like because it’s hard to apply for jobs — but the communities can support them.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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