Class of 2021 seniors from Lake Shore High School gather to watch the sunrise at Veterans Memorial Park on their last day of school.

Class of 2021 seniors from Lake Shore High School gather to watch the sunrise at Veterans Memorial Park on their last day of school.

Photo provided by Katie Maciejewski

Graduation plans evolve with the state of the pandemic

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 25, 2021

 From left, Samantha Beshke, Lindsey Wertenberger and Lexie Chernisky sit in the back of a vehicle during their 2020 graduation from Lakeview High School.

From left, Samantha Beshke, Lindsey Wertenberger and Lexie Chernisky sit in the back of a vehicle during their 2020 graduation from Lakeview High School.

Photo provided by Lexie Chernisky


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Looking forward to being a senior at Lake Shore High School, Katie Maciejewski said she was anticipating a year “full of school spirit and doing things together ... as a whole class.”

Instead, many sporting events weren’t open to a large amount of spectators and even Homecoming Week had a different vibe because involvement was made more difficult by rotating between learning remotely and attending classes in person.

On the other hand, the class of 2021 got more traditional ceremonies and send-offs than the class of 2020.

Lake Shore High School added on to the celebrations offered in 2020 for the class of 2021. The school still offered mobile graduations for seniors who wished to have administrators come to their home for a personal ceremony, but there were also two in-person ceremonies at Jimmy John’s Field where students could bring up to 14 guests to graduation. In 2020, students could only have four guests in attendance.

“We’re doing two separate ones so they can still keep (the students) socially distanced on the field,” said Lake Shore High School Principal Janelle Bross.

Graduation was held June 21, and a senior honors night was held earlier in the month at the Lake Shore High School football stadium. Prom was set for June 23 at the San Marino Club in Troy with an indoor, socially distanced dinner for the senior class only. Then, there was dancing in the outdoor gazebo garden area of the club.

“Every year is an awesome celebration and a huge moment for our seniors,” Bross said. “It’s nice this year (that) they’re going to be able to have more of their family and friends attend graduation. We’re doing as much fanfare as humanly, and financially, possible. They’ve earned it.”

Although the class of 2020 missed out on many traditional events, including prom, Bross said they got positive feedback on the traditions they did begin, including the yard signs featuring the seniors’ class pictures that were posted outside the high school along 13 Mile Road and delivered to students’ homes.

“We got so much love and feedback from our kids and families,” Bross said. “They know we did as much as we could. We love these kids, so we’re glad to do it.”

Maciejewski said she appreciates everything the teachers, staff and administrators have done to make the senior year special. The senior class was invited to participate in “Senior Sunrise” on the last day of school, when they met at Veterans Memorial Park to watch the sunrise together as a class.

“For the last day of school, they all brought us ice cream from the ice cream truck,” she said. “Just little bits to try to make up what this year was.”

Ceremonies were different, but in some cases no less special, in 2020.

Lexie Chernisky graduated from Lakeview High School in a ceremony held in the parking lot June 13, 2020.

“I, personally, really liked it,” she said.

Because the graduates and their families arrived by car to the ceremony, she said she got to have her grandmother, godmother, aunt and uncle attend along with her parents and brother, unlike prior years when graduates sometimes only got to bring four people because of the size of the auditorium compared with the size of the senior class. Chernisky said she also liked that the speeches were pre-recorded because it moved the ceremony along more quickly.

She was driven to the stage by her family, who watched from nearby while she accepted her diploma. Then she rode with her friends to see them accept their diplomas, as well.

“I liked this graduation better because it was nice. When my friend went up to get her diploma, my friend and I hopped in her trunk and went up with her. We went through like four times, just hopping in people’s trunks and going up with them,” she said. “It was a nice day out. We weren’t stuck inside.”

The class of 2020 did miss out on some traditions, but Chernisky, who attends Macomb Community College, said she kept trying to look on the positive side of the situation.

“Everybody really wanted a prom, but other than that, that’s all we pretty much missed out on,” she said.

The Lakeview High School Class of 2021 was able to have a prom May 8 in the outdoor pavilion of Jimmy John’s Field. Plans for graduation 2021 were similar to the parking lot ceremony of 2020, but with improvements, said Superintendent Karl Paulson.

“We needed to be able to plan and execute the plan, (regardless) of whatever the rules might become,” he said. “We had to commit to how we wanted to give something of significance and, by using the format we did last year and improving on it, we’re going to be able to provide something that’s more like normal.”

The June 12 ceremony took place in the parking lot of the auditorium of Lakeview High School with a professional production company running the show. Students arrived in the parking lot in one vehicle with their family, but this year’s ceremony included live speeches from the superintendent, valedictorian and salutatorian, principal, and a guest speaker, as well as awards to be given to top students in the class. Two large video screens showed the ceremony so vehicles could remain parked in their spots throughout the ceremony, and students walked to the stage in two lines. The entire production was broadcast via an FM radio transmitter to vehicles’ radios. Before graduation, Paulson said they were hoping to livestream the ceremony for those who could not be in attendance, as well.

“It will be more like we have done for 75 years in terms of the ceremony itself. We’ll just be doing it in the cars,” Paulson said. “This year will be better than last year in the sense of a regular, full ceremony with the speeches and the hand-off of the diploma and the photo on the stage.

“You try something, and you make it better.”

Robert Beato, principal of South Lake High School, said the Class of 2020 participated in a drive-up graduation ceremony during which students got out of their vehicle and walked across a stage provided by St. Clair Shores Parks and Recreation while their families followed along.

“It was, really, a fun event, and it was a perfect day — a perfect weather day,” he said.

Historically, the school has hosted its graduation ceremony at Macomb Community College’s Center Campus. When planning the class of 2021’s graduation, however, Beato said an indoor ceremony wasn’t going to be possible. They wanted something different than the drive-up graduation, so the district hosted its June 15 commencement ceremonies at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica.

“It’s a big enough venue (that) we can offer each family a decent amount of tickets,” he said.

Like a typical ceremony, the 130 graduates were able to sit together, albeit socially distanced, on the field. Their families were seated in the stadium.

“We thought about our own football field, but it would be limited,” Beato said.

The plans were put in place in January and February, and it has been difficult to make plans while the guidelines for what is and isn’t allowed continue to change, he said. The South Lake High School class of 2021 will get a senior send-off with awards and prom combined into one event June 23 at the Roostertail in Detroit.

“Students will be able to dress up, just like they’re going to prom. Be able to eat ... We’ll have music. (We) just don’t know about dancing yet,” he said. “It’s going to be outside.”

The event is only for the senior class; no outside guests are allowed. Beato said prom is after graduation for one simple reason: “That’s the date we could book it.”

“This has been a tough year for families, for students, for the teachers, for all of us,” he said.

The 2020-21 school year was surreal, Maciejewski said, because the class spent so much of their senior year learning in a hybrid fashion before getting to learn in-person four days per week.

“It was definitely weird. It wasn’t normal, by any means. Half the school was virtual,” she said. “I ran into one of my friends who was signing for cheer and I was like, ‘I haven’t seen you in over a year — this is crazy.’”

Maciejewski, who will attend Purdue University in the fall, said she was grateful for the time she and her classmates were able to physically attend school this year.

“When we got to see each other, it was crazy.”