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With drive-throughs, yard signs, and photo ops, seniors forge ahead with nontraditional graduations

Members of Westwood High School's Class of 2020 lay out on top of their cars before a  their "drive-out" in place of their usual tradition of having a walkout to honor the graduating seniors on May 22, 2020.
Members of Westwood High School's Class of 2020 lay out on top of their cars before a their "drive-out" in place of their usual tradition of having a walkout to honor the graduating seniors on May 22, 2020.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

For Arlington teen Otto Rademacher, the moment of reckoning came one evening earlier this month as the three-season athlete strolled past Minuteman High School’s baseball field.

“Any other year, I would have been out on the diamond playing, not walking by it,” Rademacher recalled. “At that moment it really hit me that I’d just missed the entire end of my senior year.”

Along with his peers across the nation, Rademacher is mourning the loss of his senior spring, and with it all the rituals that typically accompany a student’s final months of high school.

But on Friday, June 5, Rademacher and his classmates will gather on the Minuteman campus in Lexington to take part in what Superintendent-Director Edward Bouquillon is calling a drive-through graduation.

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It’s a decision Bouquillon and his colleagues have been wrestling with ever since Governor Charlie Baker announced the closing of schools statewide in April: How to compensate for the lack of a traditional ceremony.

“Normally we hold our graduations at Lowell Memorial Auditorium, so we don’t have to restrict seating,” Bouquillon said. This year, the ceremony, such as it is, will be limited to one car per graduate, with a livestream feed for family members and friends to watch the event as each student, one at a time, leaves their car, picks up their diploma from a table, exchanges smiles with Bouquillon and Principal George Clement standing nearby, and returns to the car.

“We’ll be awkwardly distant,” Bouquillon conceded. “But with enough depth of field, the camera might make it look all right.” Masked faculty members and school staff will line the driveway to wave at the departing seniors one last time.

Otto Rademacher of Minuteman High School with his mother, Annie Schwab.
Otto Rademacher of Minuteman High School with his mother, Annie Schwab.Handout

Forced to pivot quickly when it became clear that no normal rituals would take place, many high schools formed an advisory committee of administrators, students, and parents to forge a path ahead. At Westwood High School, Principal Sean Bevan and a committee of more than 20 students analyzed their options and made the decision to hold off until early August in hopes that circumstances by then will allow some kind of in-person outdoor event for the graduates, according to Bevan. Should that not be possible, they’ll hold a virtual graduation then instead, as many schools have already done this month.

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But what students will miss most isn’t always obvious to administrators. At Westwood High School, it’s a longstanding tradition for students to count down to the final bell on their last day of classes and then march out of the building together en masse. With Principal Bevan’s approval, Westwood students instead organized a car processional on Friday, May 22, in which students gathered in the high school parking lot and drove ceremoniously out of the parking lot in an attempt to replicate the ritual.

In Haverhill, Whittier Tech administrators worked out a plan by which the senior class — spread out over three days in order to minimize density — drove to the football field, and crossed the stage accompanied by their parents as their name was read, with time for a photo.

Principal Shannon Donnelly of Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School brought lawn signs to her graduates.
Principal Shannon Donnelly of Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School brought lawn signs to her graduates.Handout

Andover High School, too, acknowledged the importance of a formal commemorative photo and has scheduled several days in early June during which students will be photographed and videotaped walking across the stage one at a time, a plan which does "not preclude an in-person graduation event later in the summer if it is permitted by state and local authorities and restrictions are lifted in a manner where it is safe to hold a large gathering,” according to a letter sent to Andover families by Principal Philip Conrad.

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Many schools, such as Essex North Shore Tech, are celebrating their seniors with lawn signs placed in front of graduates’ houses. For Concord-Carlisle High School Principal Michael Mastrullo and his two assistant principals, that meant spending four days earlier this month riding a decorated school bus through the neighborhoods of not only Concord and Carlisle but also Boston, where his senior class’s METCO students live, to spend about three minutes outside each home celebrating the student and dropping off a yard sign.

Of course, no plan can please everyone, and nothing can quite make up for the lack of a traditional graduation ceremony. Gloucester High School senior Matteo Ferrara is still waiting to hear what his school will be doing, after an earlier plan for a drive-in slide show got rained out.

“I’m not too concerned with what happens,” Ferrara said, admitting that he’s past the disappointment of his senior spring at this point and looking ahead to college. “They’re doing their best. We’ll make the most of it, whatever we do.”

Nancy Shohet West can be reached at nancyswest@gmail.com.

The principal and assistant principals of Concord-Carlisle High School paid a visit to each of their seniors in Concord, Carlisle and Boston.
The principal and assistant principals of Concord-Carlisle High School paid a visit to each of their seniors in Concord, Carlisle and Boston. Handout
Parents and faculty cheer on graduating seniors from the Westwood High School Class of 2020 as they have a "drive-out" in place of their usual tradition of having a walkout to honor the graduating seniors.
Parents and faculty cheer on graduating seniors from the Westwood High School Class of 2020 as they have a "drive-out" in place of their usual tradition of having a walkout to honor the graduating seniors.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe