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Portsmouth High seniors will have a 'drive-in' graduation

It’s official: Class of 2020 will celebrate commencement at polo grounds June 5


PORTSMOUTH — Members of the Class of 2020 will be celebrating their commencement on June 5 drive-in style, Portsmouth High School Principal Joe Amaral told School Committee members Tuesday night, as the district moved forward with plans to hold graduation at the Newport International Polo grounds. 

That was the “overwhelming” preference among seniors, Mr. Amaral said, after having their original graduation plans thwarted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think students are somewhat disappointed that they cannot have a traditional graduation ceremony,” he said.

But with the help of a 30-member graduation steering committee — including town councilors, school committee members, public safety officers, administrators, teachers, parents and students — Mr. Amaral said they were doing everything that they could to still make commencement as special as possible while following state health and safety guidelines. 

Last week, each senior was filmed in their cap and gowns for a “virtual crossing of the stage” to be aired on the big Jumbotron on the field that day; graduation speeches are also set to be recorded and broadcasted as well. 

Diplomas won’t be handed out on Friday, June 5. That will take place the following day, June 6, when seniors will be able to physically retrieve their diplomas, albeit in their cars. 

“We’re hoping to make that a special event as well,” Mr. Amaral said. 

With 243 eligible graduating seniors and a 288-car capacity at the polo fields, Mr. Amaral said things were going to be “tight” to ensure enough space to accommodate everyone safely. However, he said extra police and fire personnel will be on hand, and that Superintendent Tom Kenworthy was working on an insurance plan. Members of the steering committee were set to hash out final details at their meeting Thursday, May 21. 

“Nothing is more important to a student — to a high school student — than their graduation,” Mr. Amaral said.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.