Dryden High School to hold July graduation for Class of 2020

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Dryden High School will hold a delayed graduation ceremony on July 31 in the hopes that easing COVID-19 restrictions will allow for a somewhat normal celebration of the schools’ graduating seniors.

Dryden High School graduation was originally scheduled for June 26. But in May, when Dryden High School principal Kyle Colunio and his team were discussing whether to postpone graduation, administrators were worried that COVID-19 restrictions in late June would remain too strict to allow for a group gathering.

“It’s what the students want,” Colunio said, citing conversations with some of the 100 students in the graduating senior class. “They want to be together. They want it normal. They’ve gone to school for 13 years together.”

Colunio recognized that much uncertainty remains about the restrictions on large group gatherings still in place by late July, saying that their goal is to have “the least restrictive graduation possible.”

Colunio has considered a variety of back-up plans, including multiple, smaller graduations, a drive-through ceremony or a ceremony for students only in which adults could watch at a distance from cars. Currently, Dryden, along with most of upstate New York, is in phase three of New York state’s reopening plan, which still prohibits large gatherings.

Even with health precautions subject to change, Colunio is staying optimistic.

“We like our chances,” he said, adding that a final plan will be determined by him and his team on July 10.

The administrators in charge of the ceremony planning are Colunio and his team, including the high school athletic director, Todd Kwiatkowski, and several counselors. According to Colunio, those involved in the planning typically work several days over the summer anyway, so there are no complications in the added planning work that will take place through July.

Dryden High School is undergoing capital improvement projects, which involve tearing up several buildings and fields. As a result, graduation will be held at Tompkins Cortland Community College. The ceremony will take place either in the gym or a parking lot, depending on the restrictions on large group gatherings.

Overall, the delayed graduation presented few logistical difficulties for students, owing in part to the fact that many students’ summer plans were canceled as a result of the pandemic, according to Colunio. But one student, who is going into the armed services, will be unable to attend the ceremony.

Colunio said that administrators are committed to finding a way to include the senior in the celebration.

The turbulent graduation plans haven’t just affected the students; some area businesses are affected as well.

For some, high school graduation is not a large source for an uptick in business, as is the case for Pizza and Bones. The employees there are more concerned about ongoing restrictions on seating than any business they might get from a large event, according to General Manager Corey Bassett.

But the postponed graduation will affect event-centered businesses, like Arnold’s Flower Shop, which every year counts on sales from this event.

According to Anastacia Mosher-Arnold, one of the two owners of the store, Arnold’s Flower Shop typically provides the flower arrangements that are on the stage during the ceremony and also receives business from parents buying bouquets for students.

Arnold’s Flower Shop also lost business as a result of the cancellation of Dryden High School’s prom. But the delay in sales caused by the July graduation is not of any serious detriment to the business, which has been able to remain open for the last several weeks, according to Mosher-Arnold.

Though the town board does not have jurisdiction over the Dryden school district, town supervisor Jason Leifer was excited that Colunio and his team were so committed to figuring out a safe way to hold an in person ceremony.

Lefier said that though high school graduation is always an important milestone, the circumstances of COVID-19 make celebrating this year’s seniors even more important.

“If they can tackle this [pandemic], they can tackle anything,” Leifer said.
Lefier said that given the turmoil of COVID-19, many students are likely feeling even more worried than usual about the status of any post-graduation plans they might have had, such as jobs or college.

Because Leifer is not directly involved with the school district, he will only attend if invited to account for a cap on attendance at the event. But, if asked by anyone from the school district, town officials would readily assist in planning the event.

Leifer said that no other class in recent decades has graduated high school in such confusing times.

“They’ll remember this event forever,” Leifer said.

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