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North Shore High School celebrates the class of 2020

Marking graduation while social distancing

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North Shore High School’s 220 graduating seniors lined up on school grounds to receive their diplomas at graduation June 26, following weeks of speculation whether an in-person ceremony would happen.

According to an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, outdoor high school graduations could not exceed 150 people. North Shore Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo, however, said he spoke with the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to devise a way for all  of the seniors to celebrate the day together.

Instead of a typical ceremony, graduates and their families formed two lines on the field, standing on hash marks six feet apart. The lines moved forward as seniors were called to receive their diplomas, have their photos taken and leave school grounds. Since forming two long lines technically made the ceremony a procession and not a gathering, Giarrizzo said it was allowed under state regulations.

Before the procession, a private ceremony was held on the field at 10 a.m. for speakers, which included Giarrizzo, NSHS Principal Albert Cousins, Valedictorian Kyra McCreery and Salutatorian Mary Sotiryadis. McCreery and Sotiryadis were allowed to invite 15 guests to watch them speak. Board of Education President Sara Jones also had a pre-recorded speech that played on a large screen at the back of the field.

Speeches were live-streamed on the district’s website for home viewing.

Cousins thanked the staff, faculty and parents who made the ceremony possible. It was important to give the class of 2020 a proper sendoff, he said, and his intent was to instill a sense of hope in students and bolster their resiliency as they embark on their journeys beyond the North Shore School District.

Much of these students’ senior year was characterized, Cousins said, by its unexpected ending. But it helped enhance students’ and faculty’s sense of gratitude, he said, toward the hard work they have all put in over the years.

Sotiryadis said the coronavirus pandemic was heartbreaking, as it forced the seniors to miss out on many rites of passage. She said, however, that they would look back on 2020 and realize they gained new perspectives on change and the strength to overcome adversity.

“As our paths diverge,” Sotiryadis said, “remember to embrace the change that lies ahead and to trust that everything has a purpose. Stay true to yourselves, believe in your capabilities, and know that you are loved and supported.”

McCreery said the last three and a half months of quarantine offered her an opportunity to reflect on her high school experience and consider the unique position she and her peers were in. She said she has seen her classmates devote themselves to communities in need during a period of racial injustice while continuing to use their talents to spread art, music and science to the world around them.

The world is on the precipice of change, she said, and if any class is capable of transforming the future, it is the class of 2020. “This will be the generation to both experience that change to its fullest and fuel the momentum further,” McCreery said. “So, as we celebrate this remarkable milestone today, remember that this moment only represents the beginning.”

Giarrizzo said change has been a constant for the class of 2020. Members were born in the year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and they are graduating during the coronavirus pandemic. Both events, he said, represent two of the most drastic periods of change in the United States. He said he was sorry the class of 2020 had to end its high school experience as it did, but he knows members will persevere and turn their experiences into something amazing.

“As you leave our little Viking ship, you are facing a complicated world,” Giarrizzo said, “so we are counting on you to use the qualities of grit, persistence and confidence that we have all worked hard to conserve to strive for a better tomorrow than today.”

As the speeches concluded at 10:30 a.m., graduates and their families began to arrive, settling on hash marks in alphabetical order. Because attendees were social-distancing six feet apart, most did not wear masks during the procession, which began at 11. A drone flew overhead to take a photo of all 220 graduates, as well as videos of students and families applauding.

Senior class adviser Lisa Miller called graduates up to receive their diplomas from Cousins or Dr. Chris Zublionis, assistant superintendent for instruction. Each of them then received an elbow bump from Giarrizzo, which elicited smiles.