Above: Most of the ceremony was pre-recorded.

By Aiza Shaikh; photos and video by Chuck Nadeau 

While the pandemic brought several challenges to this year’s graduation ceremony, it turned out to be a great success, all thanks to the school community.

East Greenwich High School’s Class of 2020 was celebrated with a drive-in ceremony held in the school’s student parking lot Saturday afternoon: 194 of the 227 parking spots were filled, with a graduate and their family in each one.

Three LED screens were placed at the front for everyone to watch a slideshow of pictures and videos of the Class of 2020. While graduates were not allowed to leave their cars, they could listen to an FM broadcast on their car’s radio to hear the audio to the slideshow.

The slideshow presentation started with a video of senior Caleb Gupta playing the National Anthem on electric guitar (reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969). Then, a series of speeches by members of the Class Council was projected onto the screens.

Class President Nick Sanzi spoke about the uncertainty that came with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Class of 2020’s ability to overcome that uncertainty.

“For as much as we’ve lost, we’ve gained so much more,” said Sanzi.

Students Kyra Pavilonis and Anabel Stavrand talked about the tight relationship the members of the Class of 2020 had and will continue to have.

“We don’t have the end we hoped for…,” they said. “But there’s nothing we haven’t done together.”

After members of the Class Council gave speeches, senior Lily Mollicone sang the Beatles song, “Yesterday.”

Next, student Callan Wehr introduced and described the accomplishments of Salutatorian Brant Wei.

“What 2020 means to me is working together to overcome adversity,” said Wei. “When people work together they can achieve more things than when they compete against each other.”

Wei ended his speech with the famous quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Class Secretary Julia Blessing then spoke about Valedictorian Suraj Sait and his long list of extracurricular activities.

“I never wanted to miss out on anything, so I did everything,” Sait acknowledged. “I couldn’t stand the thought of being left behind.”

Sait closed his speech with some advice for his peers. “Dive deeply into what you care about.” He then quoted Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Next, senior Noelle Salisbury sang “You’ve Got A Friend” by Carole King.

Class of 2019 senior Samantha Caterson, who was named “Outstanding Senior” last year, then presentented senior Brenda McKinney with the same title.

Soon after, student Sabrina Neimark thanked the Class of 2020 Advisors, Mrs. Munzert and Mrs. Agresti.

“They’ve celebrated each one of us,” said Neimark.

“The motivation and excitement to get involved is what makes the Class of 2020 stand out,” said Munzert and Agresti. “It seems like we’re no longer connected…but that’s not true.”

Next up, Superintendent Alexis Meyer, in her first speech in that role, spoke about the challenges this year’s graduating class faced. She made a reference to the “Senior Walk” that happened last year, when the Class of 2019 took a trip to Cole Middle School and the elementary schools to visit their former teachers.

“The Class of 2019 walked down memory lane,” said Meyer. “I’m sorry you can’t have that opportunity.” Students of the Class of 2020 were looking forward to continuing the tradition.

Meyer ended her speech with the phrase she used to say every morning as principal at Cole: “Remember, be kind to one another.”

The last speaker was Principal Michael Podraza. He started off by saying, “To enact a story is to live so as to make that story a reality.”

Podraza then quoted Author Daniel Quinn of Ishmael and defined culture as “people enacting a story.”

“EGHS is a story, too,” said Podraza. He compared stories to post-high school experiences. “Be part of stories that embrace this world.”

“I urge the Class of 2020 to tell stories to as many people as will listen,” he said, ending his speech with, “Don’t just tell those stories – live them. Enact them.”

The slideshow then proceeded to a picture of each individual graduate with their name and senior quote displayed next to it.

Shortly after the ceremony’s end, the cars assembled into a line and drove down the Parade Route (Avenger Dr, Middle Rd, Kenyon Ave, Post Rd, and Cedar Ave). EG residents showed their support by holding up signs and waving to graduates as they drove by.

When the parade was planned, no one knew how the community might respond, but the route was lined with well wishers – family members, friends, and neighbors – who cheered as the cars honked their way through the route.

While this may not have been the graduation ceremony everyone expected, it was certainly one they’ll never forget.

Find the whole ceremony HERE; and drone footage of the ceremony HERE. Both are well worth watching. You can see more of Chuck Nadeau’s work HERE.

Reporter Aiza Shaikh is a member of the EGHS Class of 2021.


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