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Lyme-Old Lyme graduates encouraged to not lose sight of 'the big picture'

Old Lyme — Though not a typical graduation with all the usual pomp and circumstance, Lyme-Old Lyme faculty and staff came together Friday to ensure their 127 graduating seniors received a sendoff to remember.

With banners hanging from the school’s façade and gold-star balloons lining the road leading to and from the graduation stage at the school’s entrance, seniors graduated drive-thru style from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, arriving in cars packed with family members to receive diplomas before turning their tassels and taking photos under a blue-and-white balloon arch.

Teachers standing alongside the school cheered on seniors dressed in their royal blue caps and gowns as they drove away, holding poster-board signs and waving blue and white pom-poms.

“This is what we do. We are a family,” high school choral director Kristine Pekar said during a lunch break from the festivities. “We will rally around the kids. These kids are part of our lives for four years. We see them from the day they come in and we see them emerge as adults. It’s huge, and it’s the best thing about our job."

“Usually we have all that time leading up to graduation to say goodbye to our seniors. And then there’s a whole graduation ceremony, a reception and then they go on their (senior) trip,” Pekar said. “But (due to the coronavirus pandemic) they aren’t getting that this year, so today had to be special.”

Pekar said the school’s entire faculty and staff turned out Friday to make sure they could bid each senior their own socially distanced goodbye, clapping and cheering for each as they drove off school grounds. Earlier in the week, teachers held a sign-making party, and they came to the school early Friday morning to decorate. The school livestreamed Friday’s ceremony so those at home could watch, and has announced plans to compile a video of the ceremony, including prerecorded graduation speeches and Zoom-recorded choral and band performances to top it off.

As referenced through several of the prerecorded graduation speeches, Principal James Wygonik said Friday he has encouraged students to not lose sight of the big picture or to dwell on what’s been lost the last third of their senior year. Instead, Friday was about celebrating and cherishing the moments the graduating class did have together.

Valedictorian Ryan McTigue wrote, “Obviously, none of us ever imagined that our last day in school would be that dreary, uncertain, mid-March day, instead of the usual triumphant, sunny day in June. At the very least we have this celebration, but we cannot define our high school based on the last third of our senior year. I think that it is imperative to look fondly on the rest of our time, not just through this darkened lens of lockdown, but despite it.”

In his speech to students, Wygonik wrote, “just because we are not holding a traditional graduation ceremony doesn’t mean that you didn’t graduate. You put in the hours, you did the work, you dealt with setbacks, you persevered, you, my friends, have earned a Lyme-Old Lyme diploma. Do not let our current situation diminish for one minute what you have accomplished or who you have become.”

For salutatorian Emily Speckhals, it’s “the little everyday moments we spent together” that stand out. “Sitting in the commons with friends each morning. Teachers saying ‘hi’ in the hallways. Team warm-ups at sports practices, and school dances. I’m sure we all have scraps of the last four years that will stick with us. ... From EGO day to our last day of school on Friday the 13th, we really have spent a significant amount of time together.”

“The reason I bring up the memories we share is that when we look back on high school, we will all see this period of time — to some extent — similarly," she wrote. "In that way we will be together even as reality holds us at a distance.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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