Pomp & Circumstances - BASD marks graduation during pandemic
Graduates of the Bethlehem Area School District’s two high schools may have waited longer than usual and the format was certainly unconventional, but on July 24 and 25 respectively, outgoing Liberty and Freedom students were finally able to gather one last time to participate in the traditional rite of passage known as Commencement.
Liberty’s ceremony took place Friday, July 24 at 5 p.m., and Freedom’s, which was originally scheduled for Thursday, July 23, at the same time, was postponed until Saturday, July 25 at 10 a.m., a little earlier than planned due to a forecasted storm threat. Both ceremonies took place at the BASD stadium.
According to Liberty Principal Harrison Bailey III, traditional speeches for both schools, such as those from the class valedictorian, student body president and others, were recorded Wednesday, July 22, with no audience attending. The in-person ceremonies only featured students receiving their diplomas, and it was announced that each school’s speeches and diploma distributions would be combined into a single video for each school at a later date.
Each student was allowed up to four guests and all attendees were required to wear face masks and maintain social distancing during the entire event. Graduates and their families were given designated time slots according to the letter with which their last name begins to enter the stadium to decrease social interactions.
The ceremonies were also streamed on the Events Staging page on YouTube. The live chats featured well-wishes and messages of encouragement from graduates’ parents, other family members and loved ones, as the Liberty live stream boasted over 250 views at times from folks who were unable to attend in person.
For the Liberty graduation Friday night, graduates and their guests filed into the stadium, then sat in partitioned sections in the bleachers. Those whose last names began with the letters ‘A’ through ‘D’ went first, taking the first 45 minutes of the nearly four-hour ceremony. Students whose last names began with the letters ‘E’ through ‘H’ would be the next group, and so on, until all 608 graduates had their moment in the sun.
Students approached the stage, which was located in front of the goal posts at one end of the stadium, one-by-one and handed a member of the BASD administration a paper which they filled out in advance with phonetic pronunciation of their names, male graduates in blue gowns and females in red, representing the Liberty colors. Families who attended separated at the approach to the stage, coming from the right side, and followed a separate course about 30 feet from the stage, cheering and taking photos.
The student would then stop at center stage to have photos taken, which most students removed their masks for, in front of a large banner featuring the Liberty emblem. Families rejoined their respective graduates to the left at the end of the exit ramp from the stage, some taking additional photos, and then left the stadium.
Principal Bailey, still masked, joined them for a photo and the newly-graduated students were on their way. Administrators switched off among themselves, reading the students’ names in shifts, with School Board President Michael Faccinetto and assistant principals Antonio Traca and Nikolas Tsamoutalidis joining Bailey on the stage in congratulating the graduates.
The Freedom ceremony the following morning was extremely similar in setup, with Principal Michael Laporta, School Board Director Dr. Dean Donaher, Assistant Principal Maureen Leeson and Athletic Director Nate Stannard, who got to introduce his graduating son Nicholas, wearing their traditional academic garb. All 468 students wore black gowns and black caps with gold tassels representing the school’s colors.
Thankfully, the weather cooperated both days, with the ceremonies taking place under partly cloudy, albeit very warm and muggy conditions. Some attendees were even overheard remarking that they preferred the outdoor format to the usual ceremony at Lehigh University’s Stabler Arena.