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Pandemic, Rain Fail To Stop Clinton’s 89th Graduation

After the 89th graduating class at Clinton Central School walked in for their commencement Saturday, Principal Dr. Matt Lee uttered words not heard before in the history of the school.

“Graduates, you may remove your protective seat covers,’’ he told the group of maroon and white gowned graduates.

In a creative method of providing a graduation ceremony for the, fittingly, 89 graduates, Clinton’s graduation ceremony went off as 89a, 89b, 89c and 89d. The four separate ceremonies allowed all graduates to receive their diplomas from Superintendent Dr. Stephen Grimm in front of those relatives and friends brave enough to sit through a constant rain that at times flirted with being a downpour.

Because of Covid-19 regulations to prevent the spread of the virus, the ceremony moved from the Performing Arts Theater to the football stadium. Students sat in three rows of chairs on the track facing the bleachers.

Behind them faculty formed two lines in chairs from sideline to sideline of the field. They held a graduate’s Big Head poster, or in the case of Mike Tesak, both the Karuzas graduates, in one hand, an umbrella in the other.

To the left of the graduates Grimm, Lee and others sat under the tents used to allow speakers a dry place, and for graduates to unmask for an official photo while getting their diploma. The respite from the rain was noted by class officer Alyssa Cancilla, who joined fellow class officer Malachi Ward in the 89a ceremony to present the class gift. Officer Jacob Lewis did the same for the 89b ceremony.

The Class of 2020, hoping to spare their younger classmates the loss of school time and memories in future years, purchased a spray disinfectant machine.

The remainder of their funds went toward established scholarships, and to the fund set up by valedictorian Wiley Gifford for good friend and fellow graduate Madison Steates. Steates, who attended Saturday’s 89d ceremony, is recovering from injuries from a dog attack.

The ceremony opened with a taped version of the National Anthem sung by Clinton music teacher Jennifer Wratten and daughters Alison and Elizabeth. Lee gave his welcome, praising the class for its attitude in dealing with how this year ended and how they might use this experience to make the world a better place.

Salutatorian Alexandra May Butunoi mixed her speech with humor, thanking her parents for supporting her to finish in second place, and urging her classmates to find their own source of happiness. She used quotes from Harry Potter and Forrest Gump; Butunoi plans to attend St. Lawrence University.

Austin Laws’ essay was chosen by Clinton faculty as the class address. “We all wish this could have gone differently,’’ he said, but added he was proud to be a member of the Class of 2020 and proud of his classmates.

Lee introduced Gifford before her valedictory speech, noting she was a three-sport athlete, ski instructor, has climbed 115 high peaks in the Northeast and does volunteer work. She plans to attend Cornell University to become a veterinarian.

When Steates was injured two weeks ago, Gifford set up a GoFundMe page. Donations quickly surpassed the $10,000 goal and are heading toward $30,000.

Gifford mentioned Steates at the beginning of her talk, as well as three classmates she said exemplify how the community has responded to the pandemic. Josh Wilcox is a volunteer firefighter, Sarah Martini keeps the shelves stocked at Hannaford’s and, according to her parents, Gifford said, Bremer’s Liquor store - owned by the family of graduate Megan Bremer - is an essential service, bringing laughs.

She then good-naturedly pointed out faculty members with interesting talents, such as imitating a peacock, collecting stuffed road kill and trying to get students to play musical chairs. Gifford brought smiles to her classmates behind their maroon masks with the white C when she recalled the three years in Middle School when every dance ended with the eight minute-plus song Stairway to Heaven.

Gifford told her classmates to spread decency and make the world a kinder place. Gifford, Butunoi and Laws gave their speeches at 89a and 89b, with Grimm and Lee summarizing them for the other two ceremonies.

Grimm acknowledged the sacrifices made by families during the pandemic, and the dedication shown by Clinton faculty and staff to continue educating students during the crisis.

Rather than hand each graduate a diploma, Grimm, wearing gloves, placed the diploma on a stand for the graduate to pick up. Some graduates set down their umbrellas before going to the tent, while others juggled them to keep dry while smiling for photos.

Keith DeStefanis, director of the school’s Performing Arts Theater, earned cheers and claps when he cleared the accumulation of water from the top of the tent during the second ceremony.

Students left the field by walking between the two rows of faculty and staff standing by their chairs. Each ceremony took between 20 and 50 minutes, with the school’s custodial staff sanitizing seats and equipment between the events.

Many additional photos in this week's copy of the Waterville Times.

The full story is in this week's edition of the newspaper. 

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