The streets of Somerset were filled with the sounds of cheerful yelling, horns and sirens Thursday as a motorcade moved through town to celebrate the senior class of Somerset Area High School.
“This gives the students a good thing to do instead of sitting at home thinking ‘I should be crossing a stage right now,’ ” senior class vice president Ben Raygor said.
Thursday was the date set for graduation this year before the COVID-19 pandemic changed that.
As a placeholder, the school organized a motorcade of senior vehicles, police, fire companies and ambulance services to parade through the streets of Somerset.
Over the past seven weeks, the senior class officers and the administration at the school met on Wednesdays to figure out what could be done in place of graduation for now and how to do it.
High school Principal Scott Shirley said it was the student’s idea to organize a motorcade.
“Our senior class officers have been extremely mature, organized and creative in giving us ideas that would please their peers and be meaningful to them so this year can be a positive one,” Superintendent Krista Mathis said.
While working on figuring out a celebration, the goal was to do it while abiding by state health guidelines and getting the community involved.
Mathis said the motorcade satisfied all those requirements.
“It’s a powerful night to be together again,” Ben said.
Before setting off, students and their families gathered in the student parking lot of the school in decorated vehicles.
Cyndi Witosky was helping put the final touches on her vehicle before the event to celebrate her son, Briley Strayer.
“I’m just grateful we can do something,” Witosky said.
She added that she was “extremely proud” of her son and, though it saddened her that for now this was all that could be done, she was thankful it could be pulled off.
Briley said he was glad the school put the motorcade together and he appreciated the fact that he’d always have this memory to treasure.
Chris Zanoni, a senior class teacher, described the event as “bittersweet.”
He said he thought the Class of 2020 was a “great” one and that they’ve done a good job of handling the situation with the pandemic.
“They’re a great group of kids,” Zanoni said.
Fellow teacher Steve Landis taught the students in both ninth and 11th grades and agreed with his colleague.
“From my experience they’re just a phenomenal group of students,” Landis said.
As the motorcade pulled back into the student lot where it began, the lights in the high school stadium were lit and the scoreboard read all 20s to honor the class.
Two student marshals then read the names of the seniors.
Shirley said this wasn’t a replacement for graduation, but a celebration of the students.
The school is still planning on having a ceremony at the stadium either June 17, July 15 or Aug. 12 dependent on state health guidelines.