Southern Aroostook county schools planning non-traditional graduations

4 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The echoes of “Pomp and Circumstance” will sound a little bit different for graduating seniors this year.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, area schools have had to alter their traditional graduation ceremonies. Under Gov. Janet Mills’ reopening plan, limitations on how many people can gather will be raised to 50 people starting June 1, as part of the second stage of reopening Maine.

That means for all but the smallest of schools, any hope of a traditional ceremony is not possible.

School administrators have been busy the past few weeks coming up with plans that will still see their senior class off in style. And while those plans vary from one school district to the next, the recurring theme is that every school district is trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

Houlton Middle-High School will hold its graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 4, at the Houlton International Airport with a drive-in service. Prior to the ceremony, students will meet at Houlton-Middle High School at 5 p.m. and begin a parade through town starting at 5:45 p.m. Only graduating seniors and their families, in a single vehicle, will be permitted to participate.

“Although this graduation will be anything but typical, we are so pleased to be able to celebrate and honor our graduates in a way that will be special and memorable,” RSU 29 Superintendent Ellen Halliday said. “They are so deserving.”

At the airport, a stage will be erected inside the airplane hangar. Students will be called to the stage one at a time to receive their diploma. The event will be livestreamed by WHOU and an FM transmission will be broadcast to the students’ vehicles.

Former principal Marty Bouchard will serve as guest speaker and the ceremony will also include speeches by the valedictorian and salutatorian.

All preventative measures will be taken to ensure the safety of the students and their families, high school principal Tim Tweedie said. 

“In accordance with state guidelines, all students and guests would need to wear a mask if they were in a situation in which social distancing is not possible,” Tweedie said. “The planning put in place for this ceremony has accounted for social distancing to minimize the need for face coverings. Students and participants are encouraged to wear face clothes if desired or if needed for compromised situations. In accordance with state guidance, if parked with windows down, face clothes are recommended.”

Hodgdon Middle-High School’s ceremony is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. Friday, June 5, on the school field, where baseball and soccer games normally take place. Students will also be placed 12 feet apart from each other, twice the distance recommended by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In the event of inclement weather, students will receive their diplomas inside the high school gymnasium, with each student being called in one at a time.

Also on June 5, East Grand School will hold its service for its four graduating seniors. The ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. outside the school and will be live streamed on WHOU and also broadcast on the Friends of East Grand Facebook page.

Greater Houlton Christian Academy will hold its commencement exercises at 2 p.m., Sunday, June 7, at the Military Street Baptist Church. The ceremony is not open to the public. Senior awards will be presented at that time, followed by a traditional ceremony, since there are nine seniors receiving their diploma.

“Our guests, platform  speakers, plus the nine graduates will not exceed 50 people,” explained Tom Zimmerman, head of school. “We plan to live stream the event for all those who want to view the ceremony, but cannot be there due to number restrictions. Seniors are happy to have a somewhat normal graduation although the auditorium will not be full as it usually is. We seek to honor God as always with the entire ceremony.”

Southern Aroostook Community School’s baccalaureate will take place Thursday, June 11, to present scholarships. The event will be closed to the public, but will be streamed on Facebook through the school’s page. The senior class night will follow at 7 p.m., and will also be closed to the public. 

A senior slideshow will be released on the RSU 50 Facebook page and on the RSU 50 website at

For the June 12 commencement, students and family will gather at the soccer field for a drive-in/movie theatre format event, according to Principal and Superintendent Jon Porter. 

“People may watch from their vehicles and there will be preferential parking for families of the Class of 2020,” he said. “Commencement will also  be live streamed on for those who are not able to attend. A parade through the Southern Aroostook Community with the Class of 2020 will follow graduation.”

Katahdin Middle-High School will hold its graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 13. The details of this event have yet to be announced.