CVU plans drive-in graduation

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Eased restrictions on group gatherings announced Monday were a catalyst for Champlain Valley Union High School leaders to move forward with celebration plans for the graduating class of 2020.

School administrators are looking for an outdoor venue in Chittenden County for a June 12 celebration reflective of the unprecedented times in which these 340 seniors are completing their grade school careers.

With group gatherings capped at 10 people under Gov. Phil Scott’s modified emergency order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a traditional CVU graduation is not possible. What’s planned is a drive-in ceremony with a stage, sound system, video screen and simulcasting. Seniors may be recognized in groups of 10, or have diplomas delivered to them in their cars.

Many of the details will be worked out in the coming weeks with student and parent input. The event will likely have a concert or festival feel.

“We don’t want to recreate something and have it feel depressing,” CVU Principal Adam Bunting said. “You have to have it be new and unique and have that energy and creativity around it, rather than a half version of what’s been done in the past.”

A group of CVU teachers and administrators met in late April to discuss different ways to celebrate graduating seniors, figuring that the CVU tradition of packing the Patrick Gymnasium at the University of Vermont for speeches and diploma distribution was off the table. On Monday, after Gov. Scott specified what would be allowed, administrators sent a survey to seniors asking for their thoughts on graduation, as well as “senior week” activities leading up to it. 

Three essentials emerged, according to Bunting: connecting with friends, being seen by family and experiencing an event as a group. As long as graduation week contains those elements, it will hit the mark.

“We can accomplish most of what’s at the heart of what seniors want,” Bunting said.

Senior Week is set to begin the Wednesday before graduation, June 10, with an evening convocation and awards presentation conducted virtually, via live online video. The next day, a picnic on the CVU campus is planned with groups restricted to 10 or fewer. Yearbooks will be distributed, and caps and gowns will be decorated.

At some point during the week, a drive-through parade is also possible. The idea of a one-year reunion in the spring of 2021 has also been floated.

This is a senior class that was born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bunting noted, and is graduating amid a global pandemic. They have missed out on their prom and spring sports seasons, as well as what will end up being two and a half months of their final semester of school.

As freshmen, they dealt with the death of a classmate and responded by creating a memorial scholarship in the student’s name. They also raised the most money in recent memory, according to Bunting, for their senior gift — a donation to local food shelves.

“They have been really closely bonded and truly community minded,” said Bunting. “They have had this human-centeredness and a core of values that is like the physics of goodness. So they are a class we want to do right by.”

Plans to celebrate Williston Central School’s graduating eighth-graders are in the early stages, Williston Lead Principal Greg Marino said. The four middle schools in the Champlain Valley School District are working together to create similar graduation experiences, he said.