Everyone’s Invited! Restrictions Lifted For HS Graduation Ceremony At Harris Field

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In partnership with the Belmont Health Department, Belmont High School is lifting restrictions on the commencement capacity and opening up the graduation ceremony to all individuals interested in attending. 

The 2021 Belmont High School graduation ceremony will be held on Sunday, June 5 at 3 p.m. at Harris Field.

Previous planning had limited attendance to graduates and two guests per graduate. Now, the school is able to welcome more family members, friends, and community members to this event.

Please note: on-field seating will still be limited to graduates and their two guests. Graduates will be seated together and their two on-field guests can access the additional field seating. To access field seating, guests must arrive with their graduates. Because of previous restrictions, we are not utilizing a ticket system: the graduate is their guests’ “ticket” to enter onto the field.

All other guests are invited to sit on the bleachers or to access the standing room only areas.

Graduates and their two on-field guests should plan on arriving at 2:15 p.m. We will stage students for a procession and assist guests in accessing seating. All other guests are welcome to arrive between 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. Parking is limited. You may access parking at the high school, the Wellington School, and on Concord Avenue. 

District Redrafts High School Graduation Plans, But ‘Live’ Ceremony Not In The Cards

Photo: Graduation from the past at Belmont High School

In a move to placate a “large, vocal group” of parents and Belmont High School students who expressed their disappointment at initial plans for virtual graduation, the leadership of the Belmont School District presented to the public on Tuesday, May 12, a redrafted plan to honor the class of 2020 with added opportunities to celebrate their achievement during a time of pandemic.

But missing from the new five-step proposal was the one event the group, known as the Parent Brigade had been agitating for the past fortnight: for the seniors to graduate en masse, together one last time.

While the district was willing to incorporate several of the Brigade’s suggestions into the graduation, the goal of a ceremony in which approximately 330 students would gather at Harris Field for the acceptance of degrees was a bridge too far for school leadership to accept.

“The one thing we can’t give you is a live graduation on Sunday, June 7,” Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan told more than 65 participants in a video conference before the School Committee. “We worry that might not be able to happen in a safe way.”

The effort to change the original graduation theme – which was based on a virtual/remote format – was spurred on by the online Parents Brigade made up of 80 families which quickly rallied only days after the virtual event was presented on May 7. Parents and students began flooding the school administration, school committee members and town officials with pleas of a more robust ceremony.

The pressure from the group reopened the discussion of what would constitute a safe but inclusive lasting moment for the town’s senior class.

Phelan acknowledged that anything less than a traditional graduation ceremony – with parents and friends in attendance inside Wenner Field House with the time-honored trappings of striding to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No 1”, walking up to the dais to be handed diplomas and throwing their caps in the air – “is a disappointment to our seniors and difficult to their families.”

Revisiting the high school’s graduation plans

With that in mind and an overlaying factor of keeping the safety and health of the students in mind, the superintendent and his leadership task force – including police, fire, the Department of Public Works, facilities, the health department, members from the district’s Central Office, and the high school administration – revisited the first iteration of graduation over the weekend and finalized changes on Monday, May 11.

The five part high school graduation program include:

  • On Friday, May 22, on their last day of school, seniors will pick up caps, gowns, and diplomas at the Belmont High School parking lot.
  • In the week before graduation, students and parents will come to the Field House to have their graduation photo taken with Principal Isaac Taylor on the stage. A video will also be taken of the diploma exchange.
  • Also the week before graduation, students will be part of a “rolling rally” in which they will drive their vehicles along a specific route – most likely going passed the town’s elementary and middle schools – before finishing at a prescribed site.
  • On Sunday, June 7, graduation will be a combined live/virtual event with speeches by Class President Caroline Findlay and the two recipients of the School Committee Award for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarships given at the Field House. Then a video will show each senior receiving their diploma.
  • Finally, there will be a class get together just before they move on to post-high school ventures. The details are still being determined when and where it will take place. If for safety reasons the event can’t take place, it will likely be held in June 2021.

“We realize that, like other districts, it’s not ideal. And like in other districts we’re trying to find the best way to recognize our community, especially our seniors at this time,” said Phelan. “We hope this five-step process with elements included from our community that … is safe for every single student who would like to attend the graduation.”

While the school committee has no say in graduation planning and its execution, the five members were receptive to the effort in creating the new plan on such short notice and incorporating the parent’s suggestions.

“I know it’s really hard to make these decisions, but I also appreciate that [the district] is marking a moment in time when it normally happens and I do think it’s really important to commemorate these events when they occur,” said the School Committee’s Kate Bowen. “When it comes to these rites of passage, it’s important to mark a moment when it happens and not delay.”

Phelan concluded by saying while the district wanted to listen to the “substantial changes” the Brigade was seeking, “the proposal that we have in front of you is one that is half cooked and ready to be fully cooked.”

A show of gratitude

Speaking for the students, senior Anna Biondo said her classmates “is a group of of strong, resilient individuals … that accept each other’s differences and are eager to work towards compromise.”

“If the Belmont public school systems wish to teach us one last lesson … let it be not one of learning to cope with disappointment but rather how to take a difficult situation and build community through cooperation,” said Biondo, who said her fellow seniors would be only too eager to comply with strict guidelines on social distancing and safety protocols at a “live” graduation to “show gratitude for our teachers, administrators and parents who fought so hard to get us to this point.”

PJ Looney, a parent of a senior and a member of the Brigade, provided the nuts and bolts of the group’s proposal.

“This class has been through a lot,” said Looney including the death of a classmate in their junior year, the disruption caused by the construction of the new middle and high school, and “then the light switched [off],” Looney said referring to the novel coronavirus that closed the school in mid-March.

“No spring sports, no clubs, no coffeehouse, no senior week, no awards night, no prom and no all-night party. If anybody deserves a graduation in person to see their [friends] one last time, it’s this class and I think we can all agree to that,” said Looney.

Under the group’s plan, the graduation would come with some important stipulations; families would need to sign a waiver, wear masks and observe strict social distancing – sitting six feet apart and approach the stage one-at-a-time – to be allowed to attend the event at Harris Field. Parents would have to stay home with only selected teachers and administrators in the stands. And the group is willing to delay the date of the ceremony to late June to August to allow the state’s regulations to mitigate the effect of the virus’ spread to take hold.

After presenting slides that showed student preferences for graduation that included a ‘live’ ceremony, Looney said the group’s proposal “is a rational plan, we’re following the rules and we’re trying to get the kids what they want and show that we believe them.”

Phelan said he would be in contact with Looney and others to discuss the matter and would present to the school committee within the week with a final proposal in an effort to “move forward” on graduation in Belmont.

2018 Belmont High Graduation In Words And Pictures

Photo: Mortarboard saying

With a cool 60-degrees outside keeping the temp ceremony below the usual sweltering conditions of past graduations, the Wenner Field House was packed with family, relatives, and friends who witnessed a record 331 seniors from the class of 2018  graduate from Belmont High School on Sunday, June 3.

The afternoon was filled with pomp and circumstance, a cappella singing, thoughtful remarks, senior pranks, an hour of presentation of diplomas and throwing of hats at the conclusion of the ceremony. 

Three students addressed their classmates and the audience: 

Class President Benjamin Brody

“As we sit where we are, right now, we are on the precipice of the old and the new. We can look retrospectively on our lives as high school students as we look prospectively on whatever comes next. … When we get to the beginning of the next part our prospective journeys, that same confident, that same level of comfort, that same feeling of belonging and of ‘I’ve made it’, all the stuff that makes up our right foot, our best foot, our ‘pedidextrous’ … it can all stay with us if we put our minds to it. … All us can look to the future and put our best foot forward … take on this journey with the same zeal and confidence that I know we will all have as we walk across this very stage.

Kosta Tingos, School Committee Award for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship

“It isn’t a fluke that his class of 2018 is special. I believe we were not born this way but instead we fought for every inch of our success and made a mark at BHS and our greater community. … Today we find ourselves facing a similar transition, one from high school to a new chapter in our lives, whether it be college, career, gap year, or some other pursuit. We have been through a lot and accomplished a lot and now we have an opportunity to start fresh and do what we love and dream of. Everything is possible, and relish all the unexpected twist and turns. … Go into the world, wear your heart on your sleeve, win your own championship and, most importantly, enjoy your life. 

Sofia Schlozman, School Committee Award for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship

“As we step away from the familiar routines of Belmont High School and the next stages of our lives, we will all encounter setbacks. There will be moments when we will feel small, confused and a little bit lost. But while the prospect of these challenges  [is] truly frightening, there is also excitement and the opportunity to work for something new and to learn from the moments that don’t immediately go our way. … Let’s learn to embrace the difficult moments and to celebrate what we accomplished, whether the outcome is as perfect as we hoped it would be or not. After all, the beauty of things that don’t come easily is that they always matter more.”

A Cruise For Graduating Seniors At The Annual All Night Party

Photo: All Aboard. 

Entering Belmont High School less than three hours after graduation last Sunday, June 3, you’d have found yourself on the gangplank to a voyage into the future.

The 44th annual Belmont High School All Night Party transformed the hallways, the lunchroom and the school’s auditorium into a cruise ship – “USS Marauder” – with shuffleboard, casino games, Karaoke in the auditorium, a DJ and lots of food in the cafeteria and Pitch Perfect 3 on the widescreen. 

The annual eight hour-long party allowed Belmont High seniors a night to celebrate their graduation with their friends in a controlled, alcohol-free environment rather than going out on their own for unsupervised activities. Starting at 9 p.m. on June 3 and concluding at 5 a.m. on June 4, the “All Nighter” provided games, contests, dances, entertainment, music, food, refreshments and good times.

Thanks to the effort by the All Night Party Executive Committee, run by junior and underclass parents, which met for more than a year, and with the help of business supporters and food contributors, the committee undertook the monumental task of building out and decorating the rooms and cafeteria, organizing a boatload of volunteers, keeping the kids fed and raise the money – think north of $20,000 – to put it all together.

“Wow it’s hard to send our beautiful Belmont kids off to college next fall but I was lucky enough to be asked to be the lead sponsor of the year-end bash where the kids could wrap up the year together in a variety of fun and friendly and exciting events….while being safe,” said Anne Mahon. “Having coached some of these kids in basketball and soccer and worked with them in our after school program all I can say is the world is a better place when them in it and I’m so glad I got to know so many of these great kids.”

Belmont High Graduates Remember Building Connections, Life Beyond BHS

Photo: Class President Richard “Trey” Butler speaking at Belmont High School’s graduation ceremony on Sunday, June 6. Behind Butler is (left) Belmont High Principal Dan Richards and Belmont Superintendent John Phelan. 

When Richard “Trey” Butler was in elementary school, his father made a request: spend half of recess meeting classmates he didn’t know.

An athletic kid who would rather play wallball or be in a pickup game of football – he became Belmont’s all-time career points leader in lacrosse – Butler said he would “appease” his dad and talk to the other students at recess.

Whether it was the classmate who knew how to whittle wood or foster care an ant farm or traded rubber band bracelets – which Butler showed the field house he was wearing – it was there he began to “build connections with classmates that I may not have otherwise made,” said Butler, telling his story to a packed Wenner Field House that included 302 of those classmates he first met nearly a decade ago and who he was graduating from Belmont High School on Sunday, June 5.

And through their 12 and sometimes 13 years together, “it was our ability to see past our own interests and open ourselves and respect the wide variety of passion” in each graduate, said Butler at the afternoon commencement.

Beach balls were bouncing around the field house – could this be the start of a new “tradition”? – as the ceremony moved along smartly finishing in a relatively quick 90 minutes, all the more remarkable since the class graduated 303 students, a high-water mark not seen for decades. 

Belmont High Principal Dan Richards said curiosity, character and community were the attributes found in the Class of 2016. 

“We hope that your education at Belmont High School will enhance your lives and provides the blueprint for the work that lies ahead for we know that you have the heart and power to accomplish great things,” he said. 

Carly Tymm, who with Emma Pierce-Hoffman, is a recipient of the School Committee’s Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship Award, focused on her class’ commitment to camaraderie, demonstrated at sporting events where the level of participation did not reflect that likelihood of winning the event or remembering to come back from Starbucks with a coffee because someone was having “a rough day.”

“As one teacher told me ‘The leadership and camaraderie of our class have truly left a positive legacy on Belmont High School.'”

Pierce-Hoffman recalled the difficulty moving from Pennslyvania to Massachusetts, and how a second move in the state to Belmont made her “so much more open to the change,” allowing herself to explore new experiences such as theater and to change as a person.

“Whatever the future holds for us, whether it’s college, work, moving to a new place, it will be different and we will be different people after experiencing it. And that’s OK. It’s not just OK, it’s awesome,” she said. 

When members of the Class of 2016 meet in the future, “we’ll stll have common ground as Belmont High School graduates. We’ll share the memories of crowded cafeteria tables, walking around the Pond …”

Graduation is also “an amazing opportunity to leave other things behind, as memories and make way for new experiences. Change and be scary … but also sometimes the best thing in the world,” said Pierce-Hoffman.

“So welcome, Class of 2016, to life beyond Belmont High. Let the new adventures begin.”

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Belmont High Graduation Set for 3 PM Sunday

Photo: Graduation in the Wenner Field House.

A total of 303 Belmont High School seniors – the largest number in more than three decades – will receive diplomas this afternoon, Sunday, June 5, at the school’s 2016 graduation.

The ceremony will take place in the Wenner Field House at Belmont High School at 3 p.m. The class of 2016 will be led by Class President, Richard “Trey” Butler. 

Later tonight, the newly-minted alumni will participate in the All-Night Party in the High School’s cafeteria.

2014 Class Act: Belmont High Graduates Seniors into the World

Salutations, speeches, songs and even a selfie. The 2014 graduating class of Belmont High School was feted in a myriad of ways at the final ceremony of – for many of the graduates – 13 years of education in the Belmont school system.

On a brilliant late spring day, the 265 graduates – one of the largest senior classes in recent history – had to cool their heels upstairs in the “little” gym before descending into a hallway with faculty, staff and School Committee members just outside the Wenner Field House. Inside were parents, relatives, siblings and friends, many with cameras, iPads and smartphones at the ready to help remember the celebration.

Leading the way in was Belmont School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Kingston whose three-year long “interim” tenure heading the district is coming to an end on June 30. It also marked the end of an active career as an educator of nearly half a century.

“All graduations are a bit bittersweet,” said Kingston, who said he had been to so many in his career his academic robes had become frayed.

And a few minutes after 3 p.m. – not that many people were worried about being tardy – the graduation possession proceeded with Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” by the school’s Symphonic Winds.

The ceremony’s highlights were the exceptional speeches from three outstanding graduates.

Class President Tyler Normale – or as he was known, “El Presidente” – said he is the 32nd member of his extended family to have graduated from Belmont High School, a school in what is more than just a small town; “it is a community … a place to be together, and a place where everyone knows everyone.”

Speaking of the activities his classmates had in common, Normale said it took a “thick skin, hard work, perseverance and countless sleepless hours with nothing but caffeine” to move through the four years of high school and to be seating in the Field House on this day.

Normale, who will be attending Stonehill in the fall, asked his classmates to turn around and give those nearby a hug, a high five and a handshake before turning around himself to take a group selfie of himself and his classmates, a gesture leading to a standing ovation from this classmates.

The two graduation speakers, honored with the School Committee Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Scholarship, saw their classmates as having

An accomplished violinist and outstanding academic – her senior thesis was honored with the Lillian Blacker Award – Aldis Elfarsdottir said while they praise those who helped shape us such as parents, family, teachers and friends, she asked her classmates to think of those “you only glancingly saw” in hallways and classrooms; “those you probably known by name but have never really spoken to.”

“You might be one of them,” said Elfarsdottir, who is matriculating at Harvard.

“All around us, there are people we don’t really know, who we take for granted to always act in certain ways” – Elfarsdottir never got to know the young man who had the locker next to hers through most of High School – which can change quietly or with a burst of friendly charm.

“Whether or not we choose to burst our with friendliness as we bump into new people in the future depends on ourselves. It is up to us … [to] bring out the compassion and goodness in ourselves and others of our global community,” she said.

Yuansi Amy Zhang admitted being a perfectionist from the time when she had to answer all the “Mad Minute” questions correctly. So given the opportunity to write one of the graduation speeches, she was flooded with excitement and anxiety “as the intrinsic need for fiction coursed through my body.”

Joining Elfarsdottir at Harvard, Zhang – a first-class scientist and four-year volunteer education aide – said she soon realized the speech need not be perfect but have some long-lasting impact on her classmates, a speech “tinged with permanence.”

“I believe that an individual, like a good speech, should strive to have style, substance and a permanent impact” one achieved through hard work, perseverance and practice, she said.

Asking her classmates to think of what, over the past 13 years, helped shape their character and their own quest for permanence, Zhang said she believed the class of 2014 remain in control of that goal “because we can choose what impact we make on the world.”

“We cannot be the future until we make the conscious decision to become part of the present,” said Zhang.

And for the next 45 minutes, that present was for each of the seniors to receive their diplomas, toss their caps into the air and then walking out into the warm afternoon newly-minted alumni.

Soon, several young men continued the recent tradition of lighting up a “victory” cigars – this year joined by a few young women – while classmates gathered for photographs, handshakes and hugs.