CCS announces plan for drive-in graduation ceremony

Crankshaw

Cooperstown Central School has released preliminary plans for its graduation, which will be held Sunday, June 28, at the middle/high school on Linden Avenue in the town of Otsego.

The graduation will be held at the school parking lot at an evening time to be announced later. Preliminary plans call for students to be in cars, parked while hearing a presentation in honor of the class of 2020, and then proceeding to a drive-in ceremony. If allowed, students will be able to exit their cars one by one as their names are called to receive their diplomas.

“We will continue to have conversations with county officials, to secure safe protocols and communicate all the things needed for safety to our families,” CCS Superintendent William Crankshaw told The Daily Star during a phone conversation Friday, May 29. “We have to keep safety and those expectations at the forefront. We’ll be pretty specific with our students and their families as we get closer to the date.”

Staging the graduation will be a joint production, with the planning split between the school and Project Prom, the parent group that in normal years plans and pays for the school’s lock-in senior prom at The Clark Sports Center in Middlefield.

“We had been doing well raising money and then when the shutdown hit, we also went into a little bit of a lull,” said Project Prom co-chair Wendy Kiuber during a phone conversation with The Daily Star on Friday. “We turned the funds we had over to next year’s prom. But when the graduation plan began to form, we thought we should turn Project Prom into Project Graduation.

“After that, we really have picked up momentum with fundraising again,” she said. “The businesses and the community have been very supportive.”

She said the school has handled the ceremony, but Project Graduation is planning the celebration. As with Project Prom, much of what the group is doing is a secret from the seniors, so Kiuber wouldn’t give away many details, but she said the parents are doing their best.

Kiuber has many different perspectives on the situation. She is a school board member and she and her co-chair, Colleen Donnelly, both have daughters in the class of 2020. Kate Donnelly and Ashley Kiuber lost as much as any students to the pandemic. The shutdown news began Friday, March 13, and the first effects were felt as the girls were in basketball practice, one day away from the opening game of the girls Class C state basketball tournament.

The regional championship between Section III champ Cooperstown and Section IV champ Unatego was postponed, then later canceled, the first of a long season of cancellations.

“It was really hard on them,” Kiuber said. “You go back to March 13, Friday the 13th. That’s when everything started. First it was postponed. Then it was day to day and then eventually everything gets canceled. Then after the basketball playoffs, the spring sports, the senior trip, senior week, the alumni banquet.

“Soon all these kids know about their senior year is all the things they didn’t get to have,” she said.

Ashley Kiuber, 17, joined the conversation on Friday before leaving for her job at Mel’s at 22. She said she’s underwhelmed by the idea of a drive-in graduation and prefers something completely outside, maybe on the football field as schools in other states have done.

She said the initial shutdown was hard on her.

“Going from sports and school every day and then being stuck at home and not seeing everybody was tough,” she said. “I felt sad and depressed at first. It has been better now. I am used to doing classes online and turning in assignments online and dropping stuff off at the school. And it has been warm lately, so I can be outside, which makes me feel better. It was harder being stuck inside when it was colder.”

Wendy Kiuber said she understands her daughter’s feelings. She said she knows one event can’t make up for everything Ashley and her friends lost in 2020. But Kiuber and her fellow parents are going to try to make the one event special anyway.

“I know it was hard for states, especially in New York state, to plan for things like graduations,” Wendy said. “You know, like everything else, everything is uncertainty and that has worn on everybody I am sure. But as soon as we heard about this, we were ready to do what we could do. We understand you don’t know yet where we will be a month from now. Like everything, it is day by day.

“If we find out tomorrow the Fenimore Art Museum will be open by the end of the month and we can be outside, we will adapt on the fly to what we are allowed to do,” she said. “It’s evolving.”

Crankshaw said a final time will be determined later. He said the evening time was selected to show a presentation dedicated to the seniors, and perhaps so the parents can do something as well. He said the school will continue to communicate as plans finalize.

Kiuber said the parents will be releasing more information, too. They will also do other things this month to honor the seniors, including more signs, window displays such as the one at CVS Pharmacy and other things.

Anyone who wants to donate to the project can mail donations made out to CFEE, with Project Prom in the subject line, c/o Donnelly, to 16 Brooklyn Ave., Cooperstown, 13326.

“We have some surprises up our sleeves,” Kiuber said. “We have a great group of mostly parents of the seniors and we are going to do everything we can to make this special.”

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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