Graduation plans irk some MHS seniors, parents

Despite heartfelt pleas from more than a dozen students and parents for a more traditional graduation, the Milton School Committee unanimously agreed to support the Milton Public Schools administration’s decision to hold a drive-through graduation ceremony for 231 seniors on June 7.

“I can’t make a decision on emotions. I have to make a decision on what is right and safe,” said Milton High School Principal James Jette, addressing the nearly 100 people who took part in the remote meeting of the School Committee on April 29.

Jette said he understands the families’ frustration, anger, disappointment, and sense of loss.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” he said. “This is a national pandemic and health crisis. This is bigger than just Milton High School.”

Jette said this decision should in no way diminish or devalue the work the students have done and is a good solution during trying times with large gatherings banned and indoor venues closed because of the coronavirus.

Jette, addressing the students, said, “I admire you and think the world of you, but this is an adult decision.”

School Committee member Kevin Donahue challenged the class members to remember that medical professionals are currently being forced to make literal life and death decisions about who receives life saving care and who does not.

“The men and women of the Class of 2020 must understand that this decision is not about them. It is about the vulnerable in our community,” said Donahue, who is a physician.

Paraphrasing John F. Kennedy, Donahue told the class members to consider “what they should do for their community, not what their community can do for them.”

The graduation planned for June 7 will include a drive through caravan with each student’s family gathered in cars.

Each graduate will exit the vehicle, receive the diploma, and have their photo taken by a professional photographer.

The event will be live-streamed and include recorded speeches. A video of the event will be produced and students will receive a copy to keep.

Bernadette Bentley, whose daughter is a senior, said the graduation date could be set later for an outside event in July or August.

“I can’t think of a less dignified event than a caravan drive through,” she said. “I’m almost speechless that this was the approach that was taken.”

Bob Elfer of Lyman Road, whose daughter is in the senior class, asked the administration to hold off on its decision and consider a plan that would allow the students to spread out on a football field with 15-foot spacing.

“There’s a way to do this today,” he said.

Kerri McCarthy of Fairfax Road said that for some students, senior week is the only time they are celebrated.

“Milton can do better and the Class of 2020 certainly deserves better,” McCarthy said.

Parent Brian Burns of Manning Lane said the planned graduation “sells these kids short.”

He urged Jette to work with the students to find a better way to honor what they have done, especially since they are also facing uncertainty about their colleges starting on time.

“This was done way too hastily,” Adam Winkler of Robbins Street said. “I think there’s a better solution and the kids in student government should have been consulted on this.”

Natalia Vega of Marilyn Road, a senior, said that the plans were “very disheartening” to her.

“This is our final send off. This is not any closure for us,” said Vega, adding that it feels as though they will be just thrown their diplomas by the side of the road.

Classmate Sarah McDonnell of Hilltop Street said, “We want to be able to walk across the stage and say we did this together.”

Jette said he appreciated the passion of the students and assured them that their legacy includes perseverance and the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity.

He said that postponing graduation would mean that some seniors who are entering the military or other programs have already left the area.

Jette suggested that measures could be added to honor the students, including posting banners of their photos along Canton Avenue.

School Committee member Betty White said she has sympathy for the graduates but said the coronavirus restrictions have led to weddings being canceled, grandparents unable to hold new grandchildren, and funerals where no one can be present.

“This virus has robbed us of things that we love and make life worth living,” she said. “I think it’s very risky to have an outdoor graduation.”

School Committee Chair Sheila Egan Varela urged the parents and students to be proud of this milestone and “give this district some grace.”

“The pandemic cannot take away the accomplishments and the great memories,” she said.

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