SCHENECTADY — Maram Ahmed, president of the Schenectady High School class of 2020, on Thursday morning stood center stage at Proctors and proclaimed words she and her classmates have long waited to hear.
“Although not everything has gone exactly to plan, today we graduate,” Ahmed said, playing her part in a production of high school graduation.
Ahmed stood not facing a packed theater of classmates, family and friends, but facing the back of the stage, where a lone cameraman filmed her part – behind her the historic and regal theater’s expanse of empty upholstered red seats.
Ahmed wore her cap and gown, pausing at one point to ask what side her tassel should hang, and worked her way through a few takes of her speech and introductory remarks.
“Go slow and breathe,” Dave Preston, principal of the senior class, said from the back of the stage, where he and a handful of staff and students watched.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon a list of participants – the standard cast of commencement characters – recorded speeches, introductions and congratulations that will be spliced together into a tight production of Schenectady’s 2020 commencement. The pre-recorded ceremony, produced with the help of Proctors, will air for the first time June 26, the day originally slated for the high school’s annual graduation, typically an energy-filled affair.
Before introducing her friend and class valedictorian, Mya Burns, Ahmed called on viewers to embrace and support the Black Lives Matter movement – a theme of Burns’ speech too. “This is just the beginning of making history,” Ahmed said.
In her speech, Burns congratulated her classmates and reminded them of all they have accomplished and learned over the years. She also consoled and recognized their shared loss of so much.
“We all missed out on one big thing: the ability to say goodbye,” she said. “I wish you were all here with me today, because this isn’t how it was supposed to be.”
The high school’s JROTC did their usual part as the program’s color guard, marching across the stage
“Forward march,” one of the cadets called out. “Left turn, march. Present arms.”
Omesh Romoatar, a senior and the top-ranking student in the school JROTC, recalled the excitement of the last three high school graduation ceremonies at Proctors, all of which he participated in as part of the 90 times he has helped present the colors since joining the program.
“It’s amazing seeing so many faces in the crowd,” he said. “I miss the entire crowd, because that’s the where the feeling comes from, the people.”
Romoatar said he plans to attend Hudson Valley Community College in the fall, pursuing a degree in political science and ultimately a career in politics. He said the JRTOC program has helped him build a myriad of strengths: discipline, leadership, responsibility and time management. As he and his fellow cadets packed up their gear, they bragged over how many community service hours they had racked up in school. Romoatar said he had well over 300 hours recorded; a colleague was nearing 500 hours.
Preston, the senior class principal, acknowledged the filmed ceremony will not be the same as typical commencements, but that the school was striving to make the event special and using Proctors as a backdrop to maintain a long-running tradition. School leaders are still working out plans to distribute diplomas to graduates shortly after the June 26 ceremony, hoping to leverage that as another chance to honor and recognize students.
“It’s awesome to see you,” Preston said as he greeted students on hand for Tuesday’s production, before adding one caveat. “I just wish it could be the whole class.”
Along with Ahmed and Burns, the other senior class officers were on hand, filming their part in the commencement.
Gathering in a hallway behind the theater stage, the students reflected on their long academic careers in Schenectady and the unprecedented final months of it. They recalled a junior rushing the football field shirtless at their final homecoming game but lamented the loss of a senior prank and senior skip day.
“I’m definitely still in denial,” said Molly Pezzano, the senior class fundraising chairperson. “It’s weird to be in a cap and gown before graduation, that wouldn’t normally happen.” She noted that at least the end of their senior year will be memorable. “We will never forget it,” she said.
“No one will ever forget,” Riley Kranick, the class historian, added.