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The Country School prides itself on living its Mission by inspiring confidence in their students, teaching them that their voices matter, and striving to create an atmosphere of mutual respect where children feel comfortable speaking and acting with vision and conviction. Born of this ideology and after over three months of Country Connected distance learning, the Class of 2020 expressed the desire not to have a graduation ceremony in June as planned if it had to be held via Zoom. For weeks administrators, faculty, parents, and students came together over Zoom and through emails to devise a plan that would allow them to "be together" as a group while also following health and safety protocols and honoring the comfort level of all participants.
Working closely with Madison Health Director Trent Joseph who oversees the safety and health of schools and businesses, Head of School John Fixx and Assistant Head of School Beth Coyne devised a plan to host Madison’s inaugural drive-in graduation. The Country School hired a screen and audio rental company to handle the logistics of the event that was live streamed via YouTube. Thanks to COVID, the 65th Graduating class of The Country School may not have made the same memories as past classes, but they can boast a graduation like none other. And they had their wish: They were able to graduate alongside each other (even if "alongside" meant inside individual family vehicles).
The evening began with a reverse receiving line. Faculty and staff, dressed in spirit wear, shaking pom poms and noise makers, and waving signs, greeted the graduates as they proceeded in their families’ cars around the parking lot to their assigned and socially distant parking places. Some students sat in the back of pickup trucks, some leaned out windows, some waved from inside closed car windows. As the festivities started, all were positioned in front of the big, inflatable screen. First a through-the-years slideshow then onto the speeches.
In his welcome address, John Fixx said, “Class, all along, when we saw what traditions and trips you were not able to enjoy, we have challenged ourselves to celebrate you in ways that no other class will ever get. My small part in that is that I have handcrafted for each of you a personal bulletin board, which you will get today. I have created each one while thinking about each of you and remembering your journey here on campus, whether two years, five or six years or nine, ten, or eleven years. You will all now have something unique to your class. Maybe you take it to college with you and maybe you look back on it someday and remember the resilience you showed as a group. One fun twist: each bulletin board was made with wood from campus that came out of a bookshelf in the middle school and a set of used cubbies in our lower school. You all used either one or both and I thought that was fun for all your bulletin boards to have something from campus in it, the way we here on campus will always have you in our hearts.”
The ceremony was a combination of prerecorded student tributes presented by teachers on the big screen as well as live speeches given by a handful of graduates and Faculty Speaker Jason Wainio. Mr. Wainio used his love of movies to impart wisdom to the graduates. He spoke about the power of persistence and perseverance, the need to acknowledge those who have helped you along the way, the fact that laughter really is the best medicine, and that it is crucial to always put forth your best effort.
The evening progressed and the sky grew darker. With apologies to our neighbors on Blinnshed and Opening Hill, car horns continued to sound after each graduate was feted. And then, another first. Thanks to the family of one of the graduates, Cate Callahan of Madison, on the big screen appeared actor Brian Baumgartner who plays Kevin Malone from The Office. Bringing forth his character’s good humor, Baumgartner shared well wishes with the Class of 2020.
The Class of 2020 traveled to their backyards instead of to Moab, Utah, for their traditional final outdoor adventure. They presented this year’s musical Willy Wonka, Jr., ironically without song, via Zoom instead of live onstage. They participated in Field Day with their families instead of with their friends. Despite all of these disappointments, they ended their year in celebration, knowing that their voices matter and that their connections, like their education, will last a lifetime.
Congratulations to the Class of 2020 as they move onto the following secondary schools in the fall: Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford; Daniel Hand High School, Madison; Guilford High School, Guilford; Hamden Hall, Hamden; HK High School, Haddam; Hopkins School, New Haven; Sacred Heart, Hamden; Valley Regional, Deep River; Westbrook High School, Westbrook; Westminster School, Simsbury; The Williams School, New London; and Xavier, Middletown.