How the pandemic changed ‘pomp and circumstance’

Several weeks following John Marshall High School's graduation ceremony and others, the West Park Times in collaboration with Neighborhood Media is now examining the success of this graduation, as well as a similar drive-through graduation ceremony in Toledo.

This story is third in a series covering graduations during COVID-19.

A deep-dive video is currently in production and is soon to be released examining the success of two drive-through graduations in Ohio.

By Jerry Masek

It is often said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” That was certainly true this spring as the pandemic brought a halt to old ways of celebrating.

School officials were faced with a huge challenge ― plan a high school graduation ceremony that would satisfy necessary health guidelines/restrictions; give graduates the recognition they deserved, and still keep school traditions alive. The guidelines were mandated by Gov. DeWine and the Ohio Departments of Education and Health.

Let’s look at the two high schools in West Park.


John Marshall High School

Graduates get ‘15 seconds of fame’

    Horns honked. Families cheered and applauded. Cameras flashed. Students hung out of car windows as a car procession began. A pep band musician showed up with his drums and a sign reading, ‘Graduates, you rock.’ There were hugs, few tears, and lots of proud parents. Cars were decorated with balloons and signs. School district CEO Eric Gordon directed traffic wearing a cap, gown, and face mask.

    Welcome to graduation in the pandemic era.

    On June 17, JMHS graduates enjoyed 76-degree temperatures and clear skies. They gathered at Max Hayes High School, 2211 W. 65th St., chosen by CMSD officials because of the central location and unique parking layout. Here, John Marshall and all the West Side high schools could hold outside graduation ceremonies that satisfied all State-mandated social distancing guidelines.

    Every parking spot was marked with a number. Students were assigned a number ahead of time ― one car per family. Some students arrived an hour before the ceremony started, for social time. It had been a long time since they were last together.

    Right on time, the ceremony began with a pre-recorded National Anthem, and a few speeches. It was live-streamed, and everyone watched from their car.

    When the roll call began, a car procession formed from the parking lot to a nearby loop road near the school. Each car stopped near decorations of balloons. The graduate stepped out, took two steps to get the diploma, have his photo taken, and tip his/her hat to the principal. As the car continued down the loop road, the graduate was greeted with more cheers, applause, and signs from faculty, family, and friends.

    Their 15 seconds of fame were over ― and so were their four years of high school.


Saint Joseph Academy

Mixing compassion with strength

“Saint Joseph Academy is committed to honoring the Class of 2020 and upholding the dignity of these end-of-year traditions, while still protecting the health and safety of the entire Academy community,” SJA spokesperson Mackenzie Schuler said in an email. Founded in 1890 by the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph, SJA is an all-girl Catholic high school in West Park. Students come throughout Greater Cleveland.

To start the graduation process, faculty and staff distributed caps, gowns and yard signs to members of the Class of 2020. The in-person commencement ceremony took place over three days ―  May 18, 19, 20 ― to ensure that social distancing and other guidelines were followed. Photos and video were taken as each student was recognized. The video included a pre-recording of scripture readings, commencement speaker President Mary Ann Corrigan-Davis (who retires on June 30), a student speaker and traditional songs.

During her remarks, President Mary Ann Corrigan-Davis quoted former Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, who once said, “I refuse to believe you cannot be both compassionate and strong.” She pointed out that Jesus Christ was also compassionate and strong, and urged graduates to follow that role model.

Links to photos and the video were posted on-line. Graduates and their families and friends were also invited to see the video at the Aut-O-Rama Drive-In Theater in North Ridgeville.

Student speaker Sarah Scarpitti referred to the pandemic in her remarks.

“…the past few months have brought a lot of uncertainty to our days. No one anticipated that we would encounter such an obstacle this year, but we will be able to look back and smile ―  because we are fighting to conquer it now. And for the Class of 2020, it’s going to be about moving forward with the lessons we learned from this unfathomable experience. So much light has been shed on some of the most fundamental truths of life. And I wholeheartedly believe that we, The Class of 2020 ― standing at one of the many pinnacles of our lives ― were awakened to some of these fundamental truths.”

“We understand that waking up to a new adventure every day is the ultimate blessing ―  we won’t take for granted even the simplest moments that appear to be freely given. We realize that PHYSICALLY going to school is an extraordinary gift. We have felt the power of prayer and of hope. We stood face-to-face with the phrase “this, too, shall pass”. We have recognized, at one point or another, that suffering isn’t an individual hardship ―  it’s a shared experience. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ’s name ― and solidarity and interdependence can heal even the deepest wounds.”

Schuler said the ceremonial Walk of the Roses procession, which attracts crowds along Rocky River Drive, is tentatively set for Tuesday, July 14, or a later date in 2020 to be determined.

“We hope that larger public gatherings may be allowed later this year,” she said. “There is no guarantee that conditions will be better in July or even later this year, and it may have to be cancelled. Let’s keep our fingers crossed ― and our hands washed!” She wrote. “We are so very proud of the Class of 2020 and grateful for their resilience in these tumultuous times!”


The digital age

Memories of the event are already available. The livestream version that students watched in their cars has been added to YouTube. For the link, go to

 Videos of this graduation ― and others ― will be aired soon on TV-43. Details will be announced.

District photographers also documented the event, and those images will be available soon.

A photo gallery can currently be seen here at the West Park Times.


Weeks following John Marshall High School’s graduation ceremony and others, the West Park Times in collaboration with Neighborhood Media is now examining the success of this graduation, as well as a similar drive-through graduation ceremony in Toledo.

Stay tuned as we delve even deeper into the solutions surrounding these graduation ceremonies.

Awards given at BPDC Neighborhood Summit

Bellaire Puritas Award Winners 1, Jerry

Applause filled the room when these three officers received individual Community Builder Awards at the 2018 Bellaire Puritas Development Corporation Neighborhood Summit, which took place at R.G. Jones. Officers Juan DeJesus, Kerry Adams, and Lyniece Turner were recognized for their community policing efforts.