ADAMS TWP — There will be a graduation ceremony at Mars Area High School on June 12 after all.
But it will be unorthodox because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Administrators and members of the graduation committee spent weeks hatching a plan that will allow Mars graduates to receive their diplomas in person during a commencement that straddles the line between safety and celebration.
Mars Principal Lindsay Rosswog detailed the plan in an email sent to parents and students Wednesday morning.
“We knew we had to do something on the original graduation date,” Rosswog said.
What to do, though, was the question.
Finally, a creative plan was hatched to have the approximately 250 graduates arrive at the school no later than 5:30 p.m. for the 6 p.m. graduation June 12 and park in assigned spots in the parking lot that circles the school.
There will be a space between each vehicle, and family members are not permitted to leave the car.
Graduates will get out, receive their diploma from an administrator, and then walk a route around the parking lot to be celebrated.
Rosswog stressed that social distancing will be observed at all times.
Teachers Dave Kuremsky, Gabe Hock and Ashley Tosadori, who are members of the graduation committee, were instrumental in devising the plan.
“When they pitched the idea to me, I was blown away,” Rosswog said. “It checked so many boxes.”
The walking route is a long one, covering nearly a mile.
“Wear comfortable shoes,” Rosswog joked.
Rosswog and other administrators practiced the route and other details to make sure they were feasible before giving it the green light.
“What we like about it is they will walk past every single one of their classmates,” she said.
In the coming weeks, graduates will receive another email with the number of their assigned parking space.
Mars maintenance personnel will be busy repainting the numbers, Rosswog said.
A professional photographer will also be on hand for the ceremony.
The district had contingency plans in place in case this one proved to be too difficult to pull off, Rosswog said. One plan was a virtual graduation, but the response to that idea was tepid at best.
Rosswog said she realizes this plan isn't perfect, but it's what she and the administration thought was the best given the current climate.
“This is going to require a lot of compromise, frankly, on the students' and the parents' end,” Rosswog said. “It's going to be hard for families not to get out of the car. It's going to be hard for the graduates to not want to go up and hug one another.”
Mars senior Zach Leachman said he was happy the Mars administration put so much effort into coming up with a plan.
“I think under the current circumstances, the graduation plan is a good idea,” Zach said. “It's as close to a normal graduation was we can have, and I think it would work better than a Zoom meeting or delaying to late July.”
Senior Bella Pelaia said she sees both pros and cons to the plan.
“The situation is tough because it's not necessarily ideal, but I guess it's better than not having anything at all,” Bella said. “Personally, I would have liked to see the school wait it out to see if we could just have a traditional graduation, but I understand the circumstances.”
Bella said her parents also see the good and bad of the plan.
She said they would have liked to see a traditional commencement ceremony, too, but realize that isn't plausible and may not be for quite some time.
“(They) are just happy to get to see me graduate,” Bella said.
Mars senior Caralyn Dufala said she isn't sure how she feels about it, either.
“I like the idea of being handed my diploma by an administrator, but I don't like the idea of walking through the whole parking lot myself, with 20 to 30 feet between me and another graduate,” Caralyn said. “I'm slightly disappointed that my parents won't be able to get out of the car to take photos.”
She said taking pictures at home will help.
Caralyn also said she is happy the administration came up with some sort of idea for the Class of 2020.
“I appreciate the school working hard to figure something out for us seniors,” she said.
Bella said one source of amusement for her friends was the long march they'd have to make around the parking lot.
“My friends and I were talking about ditching the heels and wearing sneakers,” she said, laughing.
Bella, though, said when the day comes she will be grateful to have anything at all.
“I am super appreciative,” she said. “I know it's not what everyone had hoped for, but I'm super glad that as a student, I'll still receive closure of my four years in high school. I am excited that after being quarantined I'll get to see some familiar faces — six feet apart, of course — and have the opportunity to say goodbye to some friends and teachers.”