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MAHS commencement at Forum canceled, as is prom; MASD plans video ceremony, parade instead

MAHS seniors line up to receive their diplomas during graduation on June 4, 2019. There will be no graduation ceremony at The Forum in Harrisburg this year.
MAHS seniors line up to receive their diplomas during graduation on June 4, 2019. There will be no graduation ceremony at The Forum in Harrisburg this year.
staff photo by laura hayes

There will be no commencement at The Forum in Harrisburg or prom for the Class of 2020, the Middletown Area School District has decided.

However, there will be many other ways seniors will be honored instead of the traditional commencement, Superintendent Lori Suski said in a post on the district’s website Saturday, including a chance to walk across the stage individually, a video, a drive-up ceremony, and a car parade through town.

Prom, however will not be held May 30 or rescheduled, although some type of social event is possible when Dauphin County is in the green phase of reopening  from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I share the profound disappointment that you feel over the loss of significant events this spring since the stay-at-home order has been in effect,” she said. “Every student deserves the opportunity to experience the rites of passage that come with being a senior, such as prom and graduation. I look forward to these events every year and have never missed one in the past 12 years.”

Also being held in a different way will be the Middletown Area Middle School Eighth-Grade Transfer and Honors Night.

Commencement plans

The event is held every year at The Forum in Harrisburg.

However, Suski said, even if Dauphin County were to be in the “yellow” phase of the governor’s re-opening plan for Pennsylvania by the scheduled June 3 date, large gatherings of more than 25 people are not permitted and social distancing guidelines would still be required.

The district is planning a hybrid model:

1. All seniors who have satisfied their academic requirements (and any debts, including return of MASD physical property) will receive their caps and gowns on May 21 and 22. A specific schedule and process will be announced in a separate email communication from Principal Michael Carnes next week.

2. From Tuesday, May 26 through Friday, May 29, each senior will be invited to come to the high school with their parents/guardians (or other family designee, but no more than two individuals per senior) at their designated time slots (sign-up schedule to be released by Carnes in the coming weeks). The parents will be seated in the auditorium where they can watch their child walk across the stage and receive their high school “diploma.” Actual diplomas have never been handed out on stage at graduation, but afterward. This year, it will be on graduation night.

A photographer will take the senior’s picture as they walk across the stage, just as would typically be done at The Forum. The senior will exit the stage, and parents will exit the side door of the auditorium and be directed to a location where the Raider backdrop will be set up for family photos before leaving the building.

Maintenance will sanitize any surface that is touched before the next senior will come in with their parents. Social distancing guidelines will be in place, with the number of people in the building limited to no more than 10 total as required under the “red” phase.

Should Dauphin County move into the “yellow” phase by the last week of May, the district would increase the number of family members each senior can have come into the building to watch them walk across the stage and be photographed, while wearing masks and exercising appropriate social distancing.

3. The valedictorian, salutatorian, class president and other commencement speakers will pre-record their remarks. All of this will be uploaded into a video, along with the photos and names of each senior. If a senior does not wish to come to MAHS to walk across the stage and be photographed, their name will still be announced and their senior yearbook photo will be used in the video. The graduation video will be released June 3. A copy of the video will be provided to each graduate and posted on the district website.

4. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 3 (the actual date and time of graduation), each senior and their immediate families are invited to come to Middletown Area High School in cap and gown for a drive-up graduation in which the diplomas will be handed to each graduate without anyone leaving their cars, using the high school bus lane. Each senior is encourage to decorate their cars.

The senior should be seated in the front passenger seat to allow for expedient distribution of the diplomas. Parents are asked to serve as drivers to ensure safety. Other household family members may be in the back seat.

After exiting the high school bus loop, vehicles will be directed to the student parking lot to get in line for a parade (if students wish to participate) or to the rear of the building to exit the campus via the Reid Elementary School entrance to the campus (if not participating). No one will be permitted to exit their vehicles or congregate in order to abide by social distancing guidelines.

Once every student has received their diplomas, a procession of seniors in their decorated vehicles will be led through the community with the assistance of local police and fire companies as escorts. The community will be asked to remain on their porches or front lawns to observe the parade as it moves through town. Details on the parade route to be announced as details are arranged with local first responders in the coming weeks.

5. When Dauphin County is in the “green” phase, the school administration will discuss holding a real graduation ceremony in which everything would be recreated in person in a modified form, for any seniors and their families who want that opportunity, with the understanding that many students may have already departed for college or the military by that time.

“Since we do not have any idea when large group gatherings will be permitted, the administration feels that the above alternative plan is the best approach to allow students to graduate on June 3 as scheduled in a safe but unique way,” Suski said on the website.

"Having watched many of your children advance through MASD from kindergarten through senior year, I believe in the importance of commencement as both the culmination of a student’s K-12 education as well as the ceremonial sending students forth into the world to begin their adult lives,” Suski said. “It is an emotional night that every parent anticipates with excitement and joy, interspersed with a tinge of sadness that this stage of their child’s school life is concluding. Although this year has to look very different, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the administration remains committed to recognizing and celebrating our students’ accomplishments in a manner that is both memorable and safe. We understand that these decisions will be met with mixed opinions and respect the fact that we will not be able to please everyone. However, we will continue to act responsibly in balancing our desire to do whatever it takes to see that our students get to experience what they have earned with the need to comply with the governor’s orders in an effort to maintain the health and safety of everyone.”


Prom was scheduled for Saturday, May 30 at the high school.

Again, even if Dauphin County were to be in the “yellow” phase of the governor’s re-opening plan for Pennsylvania by May 30, large gatherings of more than 25 people are not permitted and social distancing guidelines would prevent this event from being possible, Suski said.

The administration discussed rescheduling prom later in the summer; however, that would only be possible if Dauphin County were to be in the “green” phase of the governor’s re-opening plan.

“We do not want to further disappoint students by announcing a rescheduled date as some other schools have done, only to have to cancel once again. Therefore, at this time, prom will not be rescheduled,” Suski said.

When Dauphin County reaches the green phase, the district will revisit the idea of holding a social event for the senior class that may be a formal, semi-formal or casual affair, dependent upon the majority of the wishes of the senior class, she said.

“It is very important to us that no student be excluded from participating in such an event due to an inability to afford formal or semi-formal attire or the traditional costs associated with prom when many parents are out of work right now and may not be able to afford these expenses, so we may need the support and assistance of others in the community at that time,” Suski said. “When the time arrives to revisit this topic, we will be in touch with the senior class to seek their input on the type of event they wish to have.”

Honors Night 

Previously scheduled for Thursday, May 28, this event will not be held as scheduled. A virtual Honors Night program in which all awards are announced along with the names and pictures of each recipient will be produced in a video that will be released by the end of May and posted to the district website.

Seniors will receive those awards along with their diplomas June 3.

MAMS Eighth-Grade Transfer

Scheduled for Tuesday, June 2, this event will not be held as scheduled due to restrictions on holding large gatherings; however, a virtual transfer video will be produced with students’ names, photos, and awards received, that will be released June 2.

Promotion certificates will be mailed to all students.

“These decisions are not taken lightly. We are deeply saddened that the current pandemic has robbed our seniors of a ‘normal’ experience of the last few months of high school, yet we are doing everything possible to make it as memorable an event as possible, while respecting the rules that have been set forth by our governor,” Suski said.