Photo caption: Celine Koeleman of Pepperell gets a big hug from her mother, Ramona Maynard, after graduating from the Health Assisting program.
Nashoba Valley Technical High School’s graduation gala — 18 hours over two days — went off smoothly and without any major hitches. And, of course, with an abundance of caution.
While other high schools held drive-by ceremonies or were forced to postpone their graduation ceremonies until later in the summer in hopes that regulations regarding social distancing are loosened, Nashoba Tech administrators — because this is the 50th anniversary of the first graduating class — came up with an innovative way to allow seniors to experience a true graduation ceremony, with all the pomp and circumstance.
On Saturday, June 6, and Sunday, June 7, every hour on the hour, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., graduates from each of Nashoba Tech’s 20 technical programs were treated to a 30-minte ceremony at the front of the school, with their family and friends able to attend.
Each ceremony included much of the usual components of a complete graduation. There were 18 playings of the national anthem, 18 introductions of the administrators and School Committee members, 18 recitations of the same speech by Principal Jeremy Slotnick, who noted 18 times that the coronavirus pandemic that caused upheaval in the school year engendered several phrases that he hopes to never hear again — “with an abundance of caution” and “the new normal.”
As Slotnick told 18 different crowds, this was a “hybrid” graduation ceremony, with Superintendent Dr. Denise Pigeon, School Committee Chairman Charlie Ellis (a graduate of the Nashoba Tech’s first graduation class 50 years ago), valedictorian Kaleigh Walsh, salutatorian Danielle Watman, Class of 2020 President Abigail Cronin and Class of 2021 President Samantha Valcourt all giving prerecorded speeches that can be viewed on Nashoba Tech’s Viking 360 YouTube page.
“The Class of 2020,” Dr. Pigeon said in her videotaped speech, “is like no other class at Nashoba Valley Technical High School. ... You were tested and prevailed. In fact, you did more than prevail — you exceeded all expectations. ... This is a day we will all remember during a year we will never forget.”
Ellis, looking back on the five decades since he graduated from Nashoba Tech, told graduates that 50 years ago, “I had no idea that I would be speaking today let alone be a member of the School Committee. But as I look back at it, that’s what my teachers really trained me to be, not only a craftsperson but a lifelong learner, just as your teachers have done today.
“If I had to do it over again, I would,” he added. “It took me some time to understand what was really given to me as a student here. It’s an incredible gift, the gift of lifelong learning.”
He later told the graduates, “I don’t know how you did it. I don’t think I could do it. Working at home, isolated these last few months, had to be incredibly difficult, and I salute you for doing that, staying strong and making the grade.”
Kayleigh Walsh of Chelmsford, the valedictorian, said she chose to study Engineering Technology because her brother Connor, two years older, was in the program and she wanted to “drive him insane,” but instead realized “it was the best decision I ever made.”
Walsh took advantage of Nashoba Tech’s Dual Enrollment program, enrolling at Middlesex Community College full time as a junior and graduating from MCC with her associate degree two weeks before receiving her high-school diploma from Nashoba Tech. She has received a scholarship to study engineering at Worcester Polytech Institute.
Danielle Watman of Chelmsford, in her salutatory address, recognized that though she didn’t personally know every member of the Class of 2020, they all worked together to get through high school successfully.
“Graduation is more than just a celebration,” she said. “It is a commemoration of the years of effort we made. It is a welcoming to a new age, one last hurrah before we take on our own paths.”
With, of course, an abundance of caution.
Madison Rose graduated from the Veterinary Assisting program and Nathan Pentedemos from the Plumbing program. Both are Pepperell residents.
Daniel Osgood of Littleton graduated from the Electrical Technology program.
Phoenix Dumas of Groton graduated from the Advanced Manufacturing program.
Hope Kloppenburg's cap had a Beatles theme at graduation. Hope, a Townsend resident, graduated from the Health Assisting program.