NEW BETHLEHEM – A long standing tradition takes a new turn as Redbank Valley High School prepares for its 2020 graduation ceremony.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s class of 62 graduates will still have an opportunity to walk across a stage and receive their diplomas in a drive-in ceremony at Redbank Valley Municipal Park in Alcola.
“We wanted to create an experience that complies with the current COVID-19 restrictions and provides a meaningful ceremony to celebrate our seniors,” RVHS principal Amy Rupp wrote last week in a letter detailing the district’s plan for the drive-in ceremony, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2.
A rain date for the event is scheduled for Wednesday, June 3 at 6:30 p.m.
According to Rupp, the concept for the drive-in ceremony derived from a survey of members of the graduating class regarding their preferences for graduation.
“The majority of them wanted an outdoor ceremony at the beginning of June,” she said in a follow-up email last week, noting that the timeframe would ensure that all graduates could participate before leaving for the military or starting a job.
Following the same agenda and script as past graduations, Rupp said that the drive-in ceremony will feature a commencement speaker, as well as speeches from the class valedictorian and salutatorian, and school officials. Musical selections will also be incorporated.
“At the conclusion of our speeches, students will be recognized one at a time to walk across the [park] stage where they will receive their diploma,” she wrote in the letter, noting that all social distancing guidelines will be followed. “Pictures will be taken on stage, and students will be escorted from the park by the local fire departments and police.”
This year’s commencement speaker is Mike Stitt, a 1988 graduate of RVHS.
Stitt previously volunteered with Redbank Valley Ambulance as a paramedic, and worked at Clarion Hospital EMS. He has been employed as a Flight Paramedic for STAT MedEvac since 2001. Stitt lives in East Brady with his wife, Michele, and his children, Evan and Alyssa.
Each senior will receive a ticket for two cars of family members to attend the ceremony, which will be announced over a PA system and broadcast on the radio at FM 87.7 for those in attendance. The event will also be streamed online for anyone to watch at home.
“Families are encouraged to decorate their cars with positive and inspirational messages and/or school spirit,” Rupp wrote.
She also urged the local communities to show support for the graduates by placing signs congratulatory signs on businesses, billboards, churches and yards throughout the district.
“We want our seniors to see that our community loves and supports them,” she said. “We hope that they see signs everywhere they look as they drive to graduation.”
Rupp pointed out that the decision to move forward with the commencement ceremony was not made lightly, and would not have been possible without the efforts of the entire community — including the Redbank Valley Municipal Park and Tyler Weaver for donating the park; Josh Minich and the Clarion County Fair Board for the use of the stage and electricity; Beamer Enterprises for providing the sound system; Doug Henry and Leatherwood Church for the FM transmitter; Oakland Church of God Youth Group for parking assistance; New Bethlehem Mayor Gordon Barrows for coordinating efforts with New Bethlehem, Hawthorn and Distant fire departments, and the New Bethlehem Police Department; and the Redbank Valley School District faculty and staff.
“In times such as this, we are grateful for such a generous community of outpouring support,” she said. “It makes me proud to be a part of such a close-knit community.”
In her letter, Rupp wrote that with a traditional graduation ceremony “highly unlikely” this year, the district wanted to be sure the Class of 2020 had “a memorable experience to celebrate their academic careers, hard work and dedication to Redbank Valley High School” in a safe manner.
“We believe that with the support of our community and the positivity of our parents, these students will enjoy an experience that no other graduating class from Redbank Valley High School has,” Rupp said.
“You have earned a chance to be celebrated and to have your moment on the stage,” she continued. “We all know that you will go do great things in our society and that the world will be a better place because of the Class of 2020.”