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Car after car, Newton South seniors bid farewell in drive-by celebration

From left to right: Marguerite Monahan, registrar, Victoria Parker, student life coordinator, Chris Hardiman interim vice principal, Joel Stembridge, principal, Marc Banks, dean.Tyler Magoun

Faculty lined the road at a drive-by celebration at Newton South High School June 7 to honor the graduating class of 2020 — the first of several socially distanced events to replace the traditional ceremony and an opportunity for students to see their teachers again after their senior year was cut short due to COVID-19.

Teachers and administration clad in school colors and holding signs cheered as students drove decorated cars through the “celebration lanes.”

“It was a good way to actually see teachers in person and have them congratulate us since we aren’t able to have in-person graduation as of now,” said Newton South senior Allie Floros.

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Newton South senior Sam Orelowitz said he was originally apprehensive about the drive-by celebration but was pleasantly surprised.

“My expectations weren’t very high, and I thought it was a lame substitution for a ‘real’ graduation, but it was a lot of fun seeing everyone, seeing my old teachers,” Orelowitz said. “I really enjoyed it.”

Orelowitz said the event “was pretty packed.”

“It was car after car after car — all the students were driving by having a good time,” he said.

Newton South Principal Joel Stembridge said in an e-mail that faculty told him they thought the drive-by celebration was in some ways more personal than the traditional graduation. He said Newton South may rethink future ceremonies.

“At a traditional graduation, the proud parents and their accomplished student are separated in the cavernous field house,” said Dan Rubin, director of guidance at Newton South, said in an e-mail. “Seeing the emotion on parents’ faces as they patted their kids on the back, proudly honked their horns, and became part of the experience -- all while cheered on by their adoring teachers -- those were moments of pure joy.”

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Newton South Mathematics and Computer Science Department Chair Divya Shannon said the drive-by was an opportunity for everyone to say goodbye in their own way.

“I really hope that the students who participated had the feeling of ‘they are celebrating me’ because as teachers, we definitely felt the connection and appreciated the chance to individually say goodbye,” said Shannon in an e-mail.

The celebration lasted an hour and a half, with students grouped alphabetically by their last name. The drive-by preceded a planned, two-part virtual graduation ceremony June 11 and 12. It has been a difficult adjustment for students, who lost the last months of their final year of high school and had to give up many traditions.

“It was definitely a really hard thing to cope with,” Floros said. “We just left on a random Thursday and didn’t realize that it would be our last time seeing all of our classmates.”

Newton South leadership and the senior class worked together to find ways to honor the 2020 graduates, making T-shirts and creating a book of student-written memories.

“We all submitted around 200-word excerpts, anything from memories of school or a farewell to the grade,” Floros said. “They compiled them all and printed them into a reflections book and gave those to us.”

“I think they’ve done a nice job trying to celebrate the kids,” said Sherri Floros, mom to Allie.

Recent graduates said they have made use of social media to remain close during the quarantine, becoming especially active in their grade’s Facebook group.

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“It was a nice place to go on Facebook and see that our grade is still connected even if we are not together experiencing some of the senior moments we were expecting to,” Allie Floros said. “During all of this our grade has definitely kept on growing that bond and support among our class.”

Students are still hopeful for an in-person graduation ceremony in the coming months and said it has been hard to find a sense of resolution.

“It has been difficult to get closure,” Allie Floros said. “On our last day of school, it was just Zoom calls and you just said ‘bye’ — it didn’t feel like a last day of school.”

“I think it’s been in phases too,” Sherri Floros said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh I’m never gonna see these kids again’ then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh my teachers.’ That’s a layer of closure that was really hard.”

Students said they are grateful to Newton South for working hard to honor them properly.

“They’ve been really supportive of our class and making sure we’re acknowledged in the right way despite not having normal circumstances,” said Allie Floros. “It’s been hard to find closure but I think the things they’ve been doing for us have made it a little easier.”

Emma Ungaro can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.