Commencement Caravan caps off senior year

CENTREVILLE — Wye River Upper School (WRUS) seniors had the opportunity to celebrate their last year of high school Friday, May 15 with a surprise social distancing celebration.

The day began at 8:00 a.m. in Centreville where staff members provided eight seniors a small ceremony at their home, beginning with local senior Josh Hansen.

At each home, staff unfurled a custom banner of congratulations, cupcakes, yard signs, flowers, and custom t-shirts and other goodies. Chrissy Aull, WRUS Head of School, presented each senior with a white rose, and their diploma.

Aull then asked the graduate to present the rose to their parents and offer their thanks and gratitude for making the WRUS experience possible. Pictures with proud families and delighted graduates followed every ceremony.

“It is our tradition to host a Senior Picnic during which the teachers and staff read positive comments aloud to each of the seniors,” said Aull. “Most students were surprised although some feigned surprise better than others. Teachers made one of the (graduates) pledge not to text (other students) to give away the secret to his classmates.”

Within 15 minutes at each home, WRUS staff members climbed back into a caravan of vehicles, and followed online apps to travel to the next senior’s house. Among them were Hansen, of Centreville; Emma Meenan, of Romancoke; Adam Shipley, of Lothian; Macyn Poag, of Bowie; Chris Brown, of Crofton; Christian Fleming, of Gambrills; Gabe Lake, of Crownsville; and Rachel Bishop, of Millersville.

This unique kind of senior ceremony was something Aull had in mind after looking at examples of staff drive-by’s that were dropping off student items at their homes.

The importance of the sentiment behind providing her seniors their diplomas and gifts as a different kind of celebration was also paramount to Aull. She, along with the WRUS faculty and staff, thought students deserved more than a congratulatory note through the mail.

She then proceeded to pitch the idea by e-mail to a small group of administrators and teachers, with everyone quickly on board.

Nicole Sophocles, WRUS director of College and Career, took Aull’s idea and made it her own and started making plans to honor the graduating class with whom she had grown close.

“We started an event planning committee the second week school was remote to begin the brainstorming for graduation and other spring events. Part of our committee spoke with seniors in a Google Meet and then also with the parents of graduates,” said Sophocles.

The goal was simple—to gather information on what families considered the most important aspects of celebrating graduation.

Sophocles arranged for the surprise caravan to visit each of the eight seniors at their homes. She communicated with parents covertly, mapped out the houses and times and gave the parents notice of when they would be visiting. They also made the request to keep the event a surprise by suggesting their student dress in cap and gown for front porch photos.

The day of the commencement caravan ceremony, Sophocles regarded this as a major accomplishment after looking at the face of her seniors.

“Seeing the student’s surprised faces and the joy of their parents was worth every moment of planning,” Sophocles said. “We were able to create a private graduation ceremony for each student and even though we are putting together a great virtual ceremony for Wednesday, May 20. They will remember this for many years to come.”

During the event, some teachers opted to drive their own vehicles to maintain social distance, and everyone wore masks.

ChyRisse Poag, of Bowie, was among the parents behind the planning of the ceremony and surprised her daughter, Macyn Poag, picture-ready outside of their home. She followed the directions the school gave to create the rouse of a mock photo shoot, and was happy to see the caravan around the corner honking the horn of the buses with both sets of grandparents on FaceTime.

“The joy, love, and tears were on full display on my front yard,” said ChyRisse. “It took everything in me to keep my social distancing cool and not hug each and every one of them! WRUS made what could have been a very drab situation into the greatest celebration we could have ever asked for!”

Macyn Poag was also stunned by the ceremony, and said this was an out of body experience, and something that she never expected.

“The unique ceremony that was thrown at my house was better than any traditional ceremony that I could have ever asked for,” said Macyn. “Being able to attend WRUS was an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. The close-knit community of teachers and students that want to see you grow and succeed is truly amazing.”

Aull added that this is “probably the best day in her education career.  What a fabulous retirement celebration.”