Marching Orders

Top Photo: New London High School graduates march onto Cadet Memorial Field at the United States Coast Guard Academy for their commencement exercises. Bottom Photo: Fitch high school graduates march off the field in Groton at the end of their commencement.

Something happened Friday night that happens once every few years, probably never hits the radar of the vast majority of the residents of southeastern Connecticut, yet taxes the resources of your local paper as much as any major disaster might.

Six local high schools held their commencements on the same evening, four of them at exactly the same time.

Most communities, I'm sure, are well aware of the events at their local high school but might have no idea that five other towns are doing the same. For a small newspaper the challenges are numerous.

The Day had only four photographers available to work on Friday. That number alone makes the problems obvious. Add to that ongoing news coverage of the last day at the three schools in the city of Norwich closing their doors for good Friday and the logistical issues were compounded.

The paper was able to hire a freelance photographer to help with one of the graduations. That made the rest a matter of careful scheduling and some long hours and quick turnarounds. Unfortunately this meant some graduations did not get the start-to-finish kind of coverage that we'd prefer to do.

If you check out the photos that accompany The Day's coverage of those six graduations you can quickly discern who was where and when. Staff photographer Dana Jensen worked a day shift and covered the last day at Greeneville School and then followed that with commencement for the 500+ graduates at Norwich Free Academy.

Staffer Abigail Pheiffer started her day covering a kayak tour of Poquetanuck cove (watch for that story in an upcoming edition) and then covered the opening of Old Saybrook's 5 p.m. commencement before she had to leave to catch the remainder of the East Lyme ceremonies. which started at 6 p.m. Freelancer Steven Frischling was in North Stonington for Wheeler High's graduation.

Yours truly started at St. Joseph School in Norwich for the final hour of that 100-year-old institution, I also paid visits to Bishop and Greeneville schools before I had the distinctly stressful task of covering two 6 p.m. ceremonies; New London at the Coast Guard Academy and Fitch in Groton.

The timing was delicate, given my preference in covering any event is always "go early and stay late." It's the best way to have the most chances at making the widest variety of images, capturing the most moments and not missing the key happenings of the event. But in the end I could only apply that mantra half-way to each graduation.

I arrived at the academy while the New London graduates were still milling about inside Billard Hall, the academy's old gym building and began to capture the sense of excitement building with the Whalers' class of 2010. I was able, really guessing at the timing happening across the river in Groton, to stay until the senior class president finished her speech.

The only advantage to arriving at Fitch after the ceremony had begun was the complete lack of traffic getting onto campus. Parking took a bit of creativity, wedging my car into a spot primarily occupied by a pile of mulch, and I made it onto the field as the keynote speaker, former Congressman Rob Simmons, was taking his seat and the graduates were preparing to receive their diplomas.

I spent the next hour looking for the moments of celebration and reflection before the new graduates recessed off the field to the cheers of their families and friends.

The final stop was an edit to find the best images from the two events file those for the print edition of the paper as well as photo galleries on the web site from each.

If I had any say in the matter, the parties responsible for scheduling graduation ceremonies would take into consideration the stress induced upon a small newspaper staff, but since I doubt such a thing figures into the planning, I will just have to expect that one day again we'll be working on another plan to cover more graduations in one night than I have photographers available to work.


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