Riverhead High School held its first four in a series of 12 diploma ceremonies today on the football field.

Members of the Class of 2020, wearing caps and gowns, marched onto the field from Pulaski Street Elementary Street School, as seniors always do for Riverhead commencement exercises.

But this time, there were no speeches, no NJROTC color guard, no band, no chamber choir and no bleachers packed with cheering family and friends. And, instead of the football field being filled with almost 500 people clad in blue or white satin gowns, there were fewer than 50 graduates at a time gathered for each diploma ceremony.

Family groups sat on folding chairs placed within circles chalked on the turf to ensure social distancing. Masked graduates sat on carefully placed, socially distanced folding chairs.

Principal Sean O’Hara briefly addressed the graduates about the experience of having been suddenly thrust into a strange limbo-like existence in the spring of their senior year. The coronavirus robbed them of a host of milestone events at the culmination of their high school career, he said, but it also gave them the opportunity to experience life in a different way.

“This certainly wasn’t how I expected my first year as your principal to end — and I know this is not how you expected your senior year to end,” O’Hara told his students.

“However, if we think about one of the recurring themes from all the speeches from our virtual ceremony, we know we can all grow in times of uncertainty. Though this has been difficult, great growth has occurred — not only educationally but in our personal lives,” O’Hara said.

“Did you become more independent? Did you become a master of time management to complete all of your assignments? Did you become a better listener, a better friend? Did you form a deeper connection with your immediate or extended family? Perhaps you engaged in a new hobby or spent more time reading,” he said.

“Whatever you have learned about yourselves during this time can only make you better and stronger,” O’Hara told the graduates.

“You have endured so much and you’ve been so thoughtful and resilient in your response,” he said.

After distributing diplomas to the graduates, O’Hara spoke the magic words conferring the status of “high school graduate” on the students present.

“Please move your tassels from the right to the left. You are now graduates of Riverhead High School,” the principal pronounced. Cheers and applause erupted as the seniors happily tossed their caps in the air.

The 2020 class of 471 graduates has been divided into 12 groups for the diploma ceremonies. The first ceremony this morning was for the top 20 students and the members of the student government. Graduates for the remaining ceremonies are grouped according to the alphabet. Tickets are required for all spectators.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.