WALLINGFORD — The blare of horns and muffled cheers from inside hundreds of vehicles could be heard as 157 graduates of Sheehan High School received diplomas during a drive-in commencement ceremony in the Oakdale Theatre parking lot on Monday night.
“I hope that they feel like they got the recognition they deserve,” said Principal Enzo Zocco.
Zocco said the Class of 2020 showed resilience, a lesson they had to learn at a much younger age than most of the adults present at the ceremony. He had not seen many of the students since schools closed in March because of the pandemic.
“To see them again made me remember why I got into education to begin with,” he said.
Senior class president Grace Waldron said March 12 is a date she won’t ever forget. She switched her phone off airplane mode after a flight and saw the notifications that school was canceled the next day. As the notifications continued over the following days, it was clear she wouldn’t be returning to Sheehan as a student.
“The alerts came in, no school next week. No school next month. No high school ever again. Happy summer class of 2020,” she said.
School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said the class was poised to improve their communities.
“We will be a better place, a better world, a better Wallingford with these kids,” he said.
Lining up in one of the parking lots outside the Oakdale, graduates tuned into a radio station to hear sound that accompanied pre-recorded videos from local dignitaries. After that, student speakers gave their addresses live on the stage. A second parking lot was similarly arranged to allow graduates to invite a second car of guests to watch.
Around 36 Sheehan students who could not make Monday’s event graduated at an earlier drive-through ceremony held at the school on June 23. Lyman Hall High School will have its own drive-in commencement at the Oakdale tonight.
Lois Christopher said she was proud to see her grandson Travis Christopher receive his diploma. While she missed having the traditional ceremony, she said the district did the best they could and the day will be a memorable one for all the graduates.
“I was still able to walk across the stage, so that’s all that matters to me,” Travis Christopher said.
Even though they were in their own vehicles, Christopher said he was glad to see all his friends and classmates together one last time.
The friendships Russell Rutkowski formed were the highlight of his school years.
“It’s a lot of the friendships you’ll miss,” he said.
Though he wishes he was able to have all the end of the year activities that define senior year, Rutkowski said the ceremony was a good idea and a good way to cap off his school career.
“It’s that weird feeling, I’m moving on to that next chapter of my life now,” he said.