Fairfield seniors to graduate at Jennings Beach

Photo of Katrina Koerting

FAIRFIELD — Graduates will once again receive their diplomas on Jennings Beach, as school officials work to find a way to let seniors graduate with their friends and allow more relatives to attend under COVID restrictions.

Fairfield Warde High School’s ceremony will take place June 15 and Fairfield Ludlowe’s will be June 16. The rain date will be June 17. Times are still being determined, but will likely be late evening so the setting sun doesn’t affect guests’ ability to see the large screens where the ceremony will be broadcast.

The plans follow last year’s approach. Each graduate will be allowed one car for them and their families. Everyone will stay with their cars, and graduates will be called up to receive their diplomas.

“In talking with the students, they were very excited about the idea of having it like we did last year down at the beach,” said Greg Hatzis, Ludlowe’s head principal. “At first I thought they would want to do something differently but I think they heard the reviews from last year — many of them had siblings and had participated with their families — so it was almost an overwhelming support from the student body to do it in this way.”

Planning for graduation began about a month ago, Superintendent Mike Cummings said at a recent meeting, adding they’re still working on how to improve on last year’s events.

“We want this class to have something to look forward to,” said Christine Vitale, the school board chairwoman. “They have risen to the occasion last year and this year, and we want their last few months in the Fairfield school system to be meaningful.”

Some officials raised concerns about last year’s events, saying the restrictions weren’t strictly enforced and should be better enforced this year.

Hatzis said they’re already looking at how to improve the wait times to get into the beach and park, such as opening multiple entrances, to cut down on groups gathering outside of their cars.

There’s also a chance more people will be vaccinated by the time of the ceremonies now that everyone 16 and older in the state is eligible for the vaccine, possibly allowing for more flexibility.

While both high schools had done outdoor ceremonies in the past, the principals said the current COVID restrictions still made the traditional ceremony on the football field uncertain and could reduce the number of people allowed to attend or require the graduation to be done in waves based on the space needed for social distancing.

“Students want to be able to graduate as a class, and they want to be able to graduate with their friends and have their family be able to witness the ceremony,” said Paul Cavanna, Warde’s principal. “As we look at things right now, this option gives us the best way to provide those elements that they feel very strongly about.”

Each school has about 380 to 400 graduates. Previous traditional ceremonies had 2,000 to 2,500 people in attendance with each graduate given six guest tickets. It’s unclear how many people came out last year since people stayed in their cars.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced fewer restrictions for graduations on Monday, but Cavanna said the beach still made the most sense in case another spike happened and those restrictions were put in place again, limiting families at the last minute.

“What the beach does, is it allows us now to lock it in as close of a sure thing as you can get with abiding by those principles that students feel strongly with,” he said.

The selectmen applauded the graduation plans this week when approving the funding to broadcast the ceremonies, saying last year’s events were really enjoyable and festive.

“Having a graduating senior this year, I know he will be thrilled with this option,” said Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz, adding she’s looking forward to it.