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Communities find new ways to celebrate graduating seniors amid social distancing measures

A banner bearing the names of three members of the class of 2020 at Saugus High School.Courtesy Kelli O'Hara

As coronavirus forces high schools around the country to cancel graduation traditions, some local municipalities are coming up with creative ways to honor their graduating students.

In Saugus, town officials have hung 50 banners with the names of Saugus High School seniors from utility poles around the town, an effort that the community highlighted in an emotional video posted on Friday. Each banner bears the name of at least three of the 160 members of the class of 2020.

Saugus High School principal Michael Hashem said the banners are a way for residents to show their appreciation for kids who have spent so many years in the local school system.


“It really kind of brought the town together,” he said. “It’s too bad that it has to happen in a pandemic, but it’s nice that the community can rally around the kids.”

The banners were a very welcome surprise for the students, Hashem said. Since the banners went up last week, many have made a game out of finding their banner around town.

Senior class president Kiley Ronan, who appeared in the video, said the banners are a reminder to stay hopeful and positive. While it was upsetting to miss out on important traditions like prom and graduation, she is happy that she and her classmates are being honored in such a unique and special way, she said.

“I have neighbors telling me excitedly that they saw [my face] hanging in front of Town Hall and family members coming from other towns to take pictures with my banner,” she said in an interview. “Times like this are not easy for anyone, but having the love and support of our community behind us has made things a lot better.”

Some Saugus seniors chose to share inspiring messages for their fellow students in a separate video posted by the town.


“We believe with the love and support of our community, we’re going to persevere,” they said in the minute-long video that includes more than 20 students. “We’ll get through this and become better from it.”

In nearby Winchester, school officials have been celebrating their seniors by illuminating Winchester High School’s athletic fields every night at exactly 8:20 p.m. — or 20:20 in military time — to remind the seniors that they have not been forgotten. .

“We are ‘keeping a light on for you,’ ” Winchester Superintendent Judith Evans said in a tweet.

Winchester High School also held a “rolling recognition parade” on Friday, when hundreds of teachers, administrators, and town employees cheered members of the class of 2020 from their cars. Local public safety officials shepherded dozens of cars on three separate routes through town.

“We saw thousands of cheering, waving community members and students on our route,” Evans said on Saturday. “It was an emotional event and we truly felt the love and support of our entire community for our students during this difficult time.”

Winchester High School principal Dennis Mahoney kicked off the event by posting a recorded message from singer and Nantucket native Meghan Trainor, who gave a special shout-out to Winchester seniors.

The event came together through weeks of planning and help from several staff members and parents. The overwhelming support from the community made the complex task well worth the effort, Mahoney said.


“We hope this parade shows our class of 2020 students, and really all of our students, how much we love and care for them,” he said. “This event also created memories that our staff will keep with them for their entire careers and beyond.”

Waltham High School held a similar celebration on Tuesday. Teachers and staff drove around town, honking at more than 100 homes to cheer up students, according to associate principals Ryan Gendron and Darrell Braggs.

Other staff parades are in the works, though the large number of coronavirus cases in town has forced school officials to put those plans on hold for now, Braggs said. In the meantime, parents and teachers are looking into making yard signs for families of students.

Staff members at the high school also put together a video showing their support for all their students.

School officials in both Waltham and Winchester said they are still developing plans for prom and graduation. They are also working on an “Adopt a Senior” project, in which community members can “sponsor” a graduating student with a sentimental gift or card.