Mahar prepping for two-part commencement

  • Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange.

Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2020 1:08:20 PM
Modified: 5/18/2020 1:08:15 PM

ORANGE — This year’s Ralph C. Mahar Regional School’s graduation will be held in two parts, according to Principal Scott Hemlin.

He explained a ceremony to be recorded in the Kermit Cook Auditorium will air May 28 on Athol-Orange Community Television (AOTV) and seniors will meander through town in a parade the following day. This is being planned to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19.

“We know folks are disappointed. Everyone’s disappointed,” the principal said, acknowledging the roughly 85 seniors and their families were likely looking forward to attending a traditional graduation ceremony. “This is a special time in their lives.”

But Hemlin said public safety is the school district’s top priority.

He mentioned there was discussion of holding the commencement at the Northfield Drive-In, like Pioneer Valley Regional School plans to, but that was ruled out due to transportation limitations of many Mahar families.

Hemlin explained 10 people — all wearing face masks and maintaining a physical separation of 6 feet — will convene in the auditorium on May 26, and speeches, including one by Class President Megan Rich, will be delivered in typical commencement fashion. Hemlin will read each student’s name.

The ceremony is being recorded on May 26 to give AOTV time to edit the content before it airs at 6 p.m. on May 28, Hemlin said. The video will also be posted to AOTV’s and the school’s respective YouTube channels.

Then on May 29, students and their parents and guardians will be allowed to drive to the school for the parade. He said their decorated rides will feature signs indicating which senior is in each vehicle as it cruises through town, where Hemlin hopes residents will line the streets “to cheer on the graduates and hoot and holler for them as they drive by.” The parade route will be announced soon.

Hemlin said this year’s graduating seniors “could very well be starting new traditions.”

Those in charge considered waiting until August to hold a traditional ceremony in hopes that the pandemic would be under control enough to lift social-distancing requirements. But Hemlin said that idea was scratched to accommodate graduating seniors who are entering the military and will likely be away in August.

“They have a right to be a part of their own graduation ceremony,” the principal said.

Hemlin explained once the Northfield Drive-In idea was nixed there was talk of holding a ceremony in a different outdoor location to somewhat emulate the drive-in theater’s atmosphere. But, he said, he conferred with Orange Board of Health members who mentioned a gathering of hundreds would consist of some people who would eventually need to use a public restroom. Also, he said, it is statistically likely that one or two people in the crowd would be asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers, meaning they are infected with the virus but display no symptoms.

Before the pandemic struck, the commencement was originally scheduled for May 29. It is traditionally held at the football field.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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