Graduates of South Seneca High School during the Class of 2020 Commencement.

Graduates of South Seneca High School during the Class of 2020 Commencement.


This school year was anything but normal for students in New York, or the United States. But when it comes to seniors who graduated in the last two weeks, it was stranger than fiction. 

It would have been an unimaginable concept to think that graduation would have been reduced to a drive-in setup, but it was, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In South Seneca, while hopes for a traditional ceremony were abundant, it wasn’t a possibility due to New York State Department of Health guidance, along with Executive Orders signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“We received a lot of positive feedback from families on the ceremony. We did everything we could to replicate our traditional commencement, including a processional of graduates,” Zielinksi said. Graduates wore masks and were socially distanced throughout. “We couldn’t include our usual live music groups—like school band and chorus—but we played pre-recorded music in those spots.”

Zielinski said that officials were seated near the stage, but a large number of administrators sat out this year’s event. “We did a lot of planning to configure one vehicle per graduate in such a way that they’d have a ‘front row seat’ to view the speakers and auditorium,” he explained. “Graduates sat in a chair directly in front of their family’s vehicle, and non-student speakers—including myself—left their vehicle only to deliver their address. For families who brought more than one vehicle, we parked them behind the one in the square.”

One plus to the entire experience was bringing the diploma to the graduate, instead of the student walking across the stage. 

“This meant that the ‘big moment’ happened directly in front of the family, so the photo opportunity was right there,” Zielinksi added. 

The ceremony, which was supposed to happen on Saturday June 27, was postponed the day before due to a rainy forecast. It was held on Sunday June 28. Even when it was held the following day rain appeared, almost out of the blue, soaking the ceremony at 9:15 a.m. “It poured for about 20 minutes,” Zielinski recalled. “People really seemed to take it in stride, even though it came down really hard a couple times. By the end of commencement, it had already cleared up.”

That ceremony did feature a student speaker, who spoke about the unusual circumstances most find themselves in this year. With the context being that seniors in 2020 are going to be strongly equipped to deal with adversity after contending with a pandemic as they enter adulthood.

“It’s been a very unique senior year to say the least,” Hailey Bentley said during her speech to classmates at an equally unique graduation ceremony. “Do you ever ask yourself how your life is going to look 10 years from now?” Bentley asked. “You stress and tell yourself what to expect - I’m here to tell you to stop stressing. Setting goals and having a vision is great and it’s good to know exactly what you want, but it’s also okay to not have a clue. It’s okay to just send it and work your way up. You’ll figure it out and everything will be alright.”

Bentley spoke about the lessons that graduates, and other students can take from the moment, and almost anyone could appreciate her words. “If 2020 has shown us anything it’s that life throws curveballs and you never know what the future holds, but if you have to live your life and you have to take chances because amazing things can come of it.”

“I honestly don’t think we lost any of the emotion of the traditional ceremony, except for possibly losing out on the music groups. We had great professional sound and video, and we livestreamed it for those who couldn’t be there in person. It was so nice to get the Class of 2020 back to our school together one more time,” Zielinski concluded.

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