Although coronavirus moved classes to a virtual setting and prevented the traditional graduation on the Senior Green from happening, KO was still able to hold a socially distanced Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2020 on campus on June 7.
The events from graduation were as follows: the seniors, with their families and decorated cars, lined up in alphabetical order and drove onto the JV football field to park in their designated parking spot, which was identified by the graduate’s photo. Then, for the prelude, two musicians from the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band walked around the field playing bagpipes. Chorus and orchestra members began to sing and play their instruments for the song “Hail Kingswood Oxford.” History teacher Ted Levine then gave the invocation speech. Next, senior Remy McCoy introduced the faculty speaker, English teacher and Form Six Dean David Hild, who delivered the commencement address. Head of School Thomas Dillow then gave a charge to the Class of 2020. Head of the Upper School Daniel Gleason and Mr. Dillow handed out the diplomas to the graduates, who were able to approach the center stage wearing masks to accept their diplomas. For the annual commencement farewell, history teacher Rob Kyff spoke. The event ended with a car parade through a faculty procession in the Trout Brook parking lot so all the seniors could say goodbye to KO faculty and staff.
Extended family and many faculty members were not allowed to attend due to social distancing and government rules; however, students and immediate family could attend and have an in-person graduation. With permission from the town, graduation took place with students sitting in front of the stage in the center of the field, while family members stayed in their cars surrounding the edges of the field.
Early this spring, the KO community realized that there would not be a traditional graduation due to coronavirus and social distancing issues. The traditional May date for the graduation ceremony was canceled and the administration began to look for alternative dates.
There were many different models for graduation, although KO eventually decided that they were going to have a graduation at the end of the school year as social distancing relaxed a little bit. The original plan was to have graduation at the end of July, without making any changes to the usual events and traditions, but it soon became clear that even though the rules were going to loosen up, there would still be many restrictions. KO ultimately decided that they might as well do graduation at the end of the school year.
As the administration looked at recommendations from public health experts and predictions about the summer, KO increasingly felt that waiting until later in the summer would not be in the best interest of the senior class. “We felt that there was something special about graduating closer to when the seniors were done with school,” Mr. Dillow said. The concerns included students and faculty not being able to be present as well as the heat while being outside.
“We had to be creative,” Mr. Dillow said, “and think of an idea to hold a graduation for the students to balance that with wanting to stay as close as possible to our traditional commencement but still follow social distance guidelines.”
The biggest difference from this year’s graduation compared to previous years was not having it on the Senior Green but on the JV football field, along with involving cars. Mr. Dillow said that despite the many challenges faced, graduation this year turned out to be a lovely and memorable ceremony. The seniors were still able to sit facing each other and come up to the stage to receive their diploma. Normally, seniors sit in rows facing the stage, but this year they were positioned around the stage, allowing them to still see each other which made this year’s graduation so unique.
Even with modifications, Commencement was still a successful way to give the seniors closure to their high school careers. “I am not trying to pretend that this is a perfect solution,” Mr. Hild said, “but I do feel really good when saying it is the best we can do right now.”
Mr. Hild was chosen by the senior class to be the graduation speaker this year; he touched on themes that made his speech very special. Mr. Hild talked about how he has felt closer to this class as this year marks 40 years since he graduated KO. “We are KO graduates together, just 40 years apart!” Mr. Hild said. He also spoke about how special the football field is to him, which is where this year’s Commencement took place. “When I was a student, I played football and I was a head coach here for a lot of years,” Mr. Hild said, “so although the Senior Green is our traditional graduation place, I am actually not unhappy about being where it’s happening, because I love that place and to me it is one of the most special places on campus in terms of my memories and background.”
Additionally, Mr. Hild spoke about sacred spaces and times relating back to his experiences as a KO student. A major theme of his speech was Kingswood Oxford’s mission to help kids lead lives of integrity and involvement, what that truly means, and how that relates to leading a purposeful life.
Other than being the Form Six Dean and serving as an advisor to some of them, Mr. Hild shares a very special connection with the seniors; through teaching so many of these students and also coaching football and lacrosse to many students as well, he’s bonded with many members of the senior class.
“As a form dean,” Mr. Hild said, “I see many of these students at moments that are really great in their lives and also in situations that are difficult where they are struggling with something at school or in their personal lives.”
Due to the unfortunate situation of this spring, everyone was physically separated as no one could come to campus. However, Mr. Hild feels that it has actually brought students and teachers closer through a newfound appreciation for what they are missing.
KO truly did pull off a ceremony that honored long standing graduation traditions and also added some new pieces to the program that were special and meaningful for the seniors in these unique times. Despite veering away from previous ceremonies, Commencement 2020 definitely was successful!