Basking in the morning sun on Scout Field Friday, June 26, graduates of the Scarsdale Alternative School and their families sat patiently in their lawn chairs, waiting for graduation ceremonies to begin. With families socially distanced from one another in separate areas marked off by lines in the grass, it was sure to be different from the traditional A-School graduation, which is usually a scene of much hugging, rejoicing and celebration.
The A-School, well known for its longer graduation ceremonies that highlight the accomplishments of each senior, faced a predicament this year due to the restrictions meant to keep gatherings small and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the presenting of flowers, gifts and personalized speeches a mainstay for the ceremony, the school and its students had to figure out what could stay and what could go. One thing was clear — the school was committed to maintaining its tradition of teacher-advisers offering up personalized speeches about each one of their students.
When schools shut down during the pandemic, a graduation committee comprised of students and faculty began planning for both a virtual and in-person ceremony, with safety as the No. 1 priority.
“I was myself torn between wanting to do what the students so clearly wanted … and also my sadness that not everyone could be here,” said social studies teacher and A-School Director Jennifer Maxwell.
Once last-minute permits were obtained from the village of Scarsdale, the Alternative School made plans to use Scout Field behind the A-School building on Wayside Lane as the venue for an in-person celebration with restrictions put in place according to New York State and health department guidelines.
After thanking all the students who served on the graduation committee, Maxwell stood on top of a hill on the field and addressed the crowd of about 100 students, their family members and teachers.
“I’m still somewhat sad that things aren’t the way we would wish them to be, but it has occurred to me that that’s okay because if you think about it, graduations are always a little bit sad because we’re losing you guys now,” said Maxwell. “That’s hard for us every year and even though you might come back and visit it will be a bit different because we all move forward.”
After that introduction, the festivities began with each individual teacher coming to the microphone to commemorate the personal and academic achievements of the 28 graduating A-School seniors. Tears were shed over stories of growth, challenges and of personal connections made with advisers and teachers.
Each student stood to be recognized by his or her adviser, but each had to forgo the traditional student-teacher embrace, diploma presentation and receiving of a gift from an underclassman.
Students did receive gifts, but only after the ceremony ended.
Jack McEvoy, who was chosen by his classmates to speak at the ceremony, implored students to realize the personal growth they experienced after entering the A-School.
“It’s always easy to talk about individual growth to those who ask me about the A-School and what it’s done for me, as I’m sure it may be for you as well. The trials and tribulations; we have all come out of the A-School better individuals and we all deserve to be proud of the people who we are today,” said McEvoy, adding that although they all grew individually, it took time and effort for them to become a cohesive cohort.
McEvoy said things shifted when the class met outside of school hours during their junior year to talk about how they could become closer to one another.
“The A-School pushes its students to be critical thinkers both in and out of the classroom. To challenge themselves and their peers, to collaborate, to achieve a common goal,” said McEvoy. “We banded together as a group to fix a problem that we had as a community. That discussion would never have happened if it weren’t for the A-School.”