MARS HILL, Maine — The usual sound of families and friends clapping and cheering loudly for graduating seniors was replaced with enthusiastic car horns, as people watched from their vehicles in designated parking spaces while the Central Aroostook High School Class of 2020 graduated.
It has been a common sight for many graduating high school classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many schools across the country, Central Aroostook in Mars Hill opted for an outdoor, drive-up ceremony that allowed families to enjoy the ceremony from a safe distance.
More than 50 vehicles gathered on Friday, June 5, on the soccer field, with many decorated in honor of specific graduates.
After watching the 29 seniors march one by one, six feet apart onto the field, Principal Kay York acknowledged the perseverance that the Class of 2020 needed in order to get through the unexpected closure of their school in mid-March and the shift to online learning.
They also dealt with the disappointment of seeing many of their senior activities canceled or moved to online.
York encouraged the graduates to remain hopeful and positive throughout life’s challenges, with the knowledge of what they have accomplished as high school graduates.
“We can’t always determine how the events will occur, but we can always determine our attitude,” York said. “There are going to be uncertain days ahead, but you’ll always be a part of Central Aroostook High School and we’ll be here for you.”
During the ceremony, the chairs for seniors and staff members were spaced six feet apart, but the speeches of salutatorian Brayden Bradbury and valedictorian Brooke Howlett reflected the close bonds each of them have formed with their classmates, especially throughout challenging times.
Bradbury said that when thinking about the people who made him the person he is today, he could look no further than his fellow classmates.
“My classmates are a big part of who I am,” Bradbury said. “We have pushed each other every day to do our best.”
Howlett reminded her classmates that graduation is both the end of a 12-year journey through childhood and adolescence and the beginning of their adult lives. She encouraged everyone to go into the world with the same spirit that guided them through the halls of Fort Street Elementary and Central Aroostook.
“Now it is our turn to go out into the world, discover new things, take large strides and bring about the next changes,” Howlett said. “We’ve learned that traditions are never certain; that change is inevitable. Let the next traditions be ours to make.”
Holding graduation outdoors presented a handful of challenges, including a technical glitch during senior Sydney Garrison’s performance of “Grow Young” by Brynn Cartelli, as well as strong winds later in the evening. But despite possible rain showers in the forecast, the skies remained clear throughout the festivities.
Before the names of each graduate — who took their diplomas from a table instead of from a staff member — were announced, SAD 42 superintendent Elaine Boulier shared her advice with the class: be flexible when facing challenges, take pride in how far you’ve come and how far you can go and always have respect for others.
“In my office, I have a plaque that reads ‘Work hard. Be nice.’ Those are words I try to live by each day, words that haven’t failed me yet,” Boulier said. “My wish for you is simple: Be true to yourself, find a career you are passionate about, count your blessings every day, work hard, be kind, have faith and enjoy the journey.”
Class president Kayla Martin gave the final address to the Class of 2020, in which she
thanked the teachers and family members who have helped them along the way, and acknowledged the role that SAD 42 has played in her personal journey.
“I only joined this school eight years ago, but since then I’ve grown to know each and every one of you — most of you becoming the best friends anyone could ask for,” Martin said. “This class is special and will go down in history and CAHS.”
The evening ended with a vehicle procession that started at the high school and traveled down Main Street in Mars Hill to the Blaine town office. Graduates waved to family members and friends who parked alongside the procession route.
Those who could not attend the Central Aroostook graduation can view the live-streamed ceremony on YouTube.