WALLINGFORD — The 181 Lyman Hall High School graduates who participated in Tuesday night’s unique drive-through ceremony at the Oakdale Theatre viewed the coronavirus pandemic as a learning experience that will help them in the future.
"Those challenges will never stop, but you are already one step ahead of the game," said Valedictorian Lea Cioffi. " ... If we can be born in the aftermath of 9/11 and graduate in the midst of a global health crisis, and overcome those adversities, nothing shall be too formidable in what comes next."
Confined to their homes, the class found ways to remain bonded, such as its virtual prom, Cioffi said.
"I am proud to call myself a Trojan, because I am proud to be a part of all of you," she said.
School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said the class of 2020 showed him how to overcome adversity and that there is a lot to learn from students.
"I have never been more impressed. I also know I could not be who I am today without having been impacted by every student," he said.
Hundreds of vehicles lined two parking lots at the Oakdale for the ceremony. One was for graduates and their families and a second for guests. Audio from the stage could be heard on a radio station set up for the event and a large screen showed a live video feed of the stage.
Speeches from teachers, most school administrators and elected officials were pre-recorded to reduce the number of people on stage. Student speeches were given live.
Lyman Hall Principal Joseph Corso said the ceremony was a unique success. Student leaders played a central role in planning the commencement and worked hard in the final months of the school year to plan the virtual prom and a spirit week.
"Throughout life there will be these difficulties and they can overcome them," Corso said
Evelyn McNamee said the pandemic showed that her classmates can handle the unexpected. It can be hard to be positive during a crisis, so she was glad Tuesday night’s speeches by students were inspirational.
Tuesday's ceremony capped off five commencements, including two drive-in ceremonies for both high schools and one for adult education graduates. Around 70 Lyman Hall students not able to participate in Tuesday’s ceremony took part in a drive-through commencement on June 22.
Sheehan High School held its own drive-in graduation on Monday, also at the Oakdale.
Though it was nerve-wracking to walk from her parents' car and cross the stage while being projected on a giant screen, Grace Thiede said she was glad to complete her school journey.
"It's unbelievable. I just can't believe it happened," she said.
When she looks back, Thiede believes all the hard work will stand out, along with the friends that she was able to see again from her car.
"It was good we got to see everyone one last time," she said.