It was a graduation ceremony like no other at Bishop Hendricken High School Friday evening. For starters, the ceremony was a month later than those that preceded it. But that's what made it truly unique. Graduation ceremonies across the
It was a graduation ceremony like no other at Bishop Hendricken High School Friday evening.
For starters, the ceremony was a month later than those that preceded it. But that’s what made it truly unique.
Graduation ceremonies across the country have had to adapt to conditions imposed by the coronavirus, and Hendricken was no exception. Guests were limited, people wore masks, distancing was urged and everything was designed to discourage large gatherings, although when students haven’t seen one another in person for nearly three months, that can be hard to enforce.
The Hendricken commencement, which started at the school at 6:30 p.m. and ended with a light show at the Aldrich Mansion on Warwick Neck nearly four hours later, was a production.
And the directors had thought of everything, from how graduates would cross the stage when not alphabetically seated, as would have been the situation at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul in Providence, to how the engage both the graduates and their carload of guests with flashing light wands. No encouragement was needed for the blowing of car horns, shouts and the perpetuation of a Hendricken tradition – the lighting up of cigars that didn’t wait until conclusion of the ceremony.
Such detailed preparation and the departure from a ceremony in the cathedral didn’t escape Father Robert Marciano, president of the all-boys school that is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
“The hard wooden pews of the cathedral you have been traded for lawn chairs of your choice, and the heat of a Friday night in downtown Providence, you have given away for this vista of sky and sea and the cool breeze of a June summer night,” he said from the podium bathed in a spotlight and broadcast on each of the large screens.
“And let me say this – YOU DESERVE IT – every bit of it! These past few months, challenging though they have been, have been no match for you. As a class you pressed forward to the finish line and this beautiful and historic night that has been earned by each of you,” he said with Narragansett Bay and the Mt. Hope Bridge with its necklace of lights as a backdrop.
“‘Resilient,’ ‘excellence’ and ‘character’ are the three words I would use to describe the historic class of 2020. When people go through a crisis or a challenging time, it is said that you build grit. The class of 2020 has learned this lesson all too fast. The way you have conducted yourselves after the pandemic has proven your ability to be resilient and overcome any situation,” Principal Mark DeCiccio said as he looked out at more than 250 parked cars.
Fr. Marciano and DeCiccio were part of the project from the start.
When schools across the state shut down on March 13, the hope was that everything would work out and graduation would be held as planned. As a precaution, a late July date was reserved at the cathedral. As the weeks progressed and it became evident distance learning would close out the academic year, the suggestion of a Christmas vacation graduation was made and a date at the cathedral confirmed.
All of the contingency plans had their drawbacks, recalls Michele King, who along with Jackie Levesque, Christian Kabbas, Richie Sylvia became the defacto graduation committee.
King said Paul Danesi, who retired this year, was a turning point for her. Danesi was troubled he would not see or able to say goodbye to the boys. He suggested a drive-by where students would stay in their vehicles as they slowly drove past the students. DeCiccio thought the idea was good, but reasoned it would take a lot of work to coordinate.
The committee welcomed the challenge and the event evolved from there. King said an outdoor ceremony was proposed as a means of holding the graduation sooner while abiding by the regulations to deal with the virus. Rocky Point was considered as a venue and then it seemed only natural that the Aldrich Mansion, which is owned by the diocese, be the location. King points out that the property is the site of senior night and at one time served as the senior campus for the school – all the more reason to use the mansion.
The committee turned to Advanced Production and Design of Warwick, and as Adam Ramsey, co-owner with Evan Perry, points out, it grew from there.
“I had to be a memorable event,” Ramsey said. “We wanted to set a gold standard.”
The plan called for parents and guests to remain in their vehicles while the graduates would sit in lawn chairs in front of their car. As graduates were called by row, they would hand over a card with their name for Dean of Academics Vincent Mancuso to announce as they walked across the stage to pick up a diploma from a table where it had been placed.
As parked cars spanned 400 feet facing the bay, six giant inflatable screens were lined up along the waterfront to give everyone a view of what was happening on stage as well as a video message from Dr. Frank A. DeLucia, a member of the class of 1970, and highlights from this senior year. The screens also provided a means of reminding people not to gather and to keep their social distancing, plus information on where to find the restrooms and be sure to shut off headlights during the presentation. Those were some of the rules, although they weren’t always followed to the “T.”
A light show followed by a shower of confetti brought the evening to a close about 10:30 p.m.
King said she’s received accolades for the “production” as well as suggestions it should be the standard going forward. That’s not likely to happen.
The Hendricken class of 2020 was, indeed, one of a kind. And King and those who planned such a sendoff would rather conditions improve so that it remains so.
For additional coverage of the Hendricken graduation and class highlights, visit the Warwick Beacon’s website, warwickonline.com starting next week.