ITHACA, N.Y. –– A year after holding individual graduation ceremonies in Stewart Park, Ithaca High School is now planning on holding four separate in-person graduation ceremonies for the class of 2021.

This year’s graduating class of 386 students will be divided into four separate graduation ceremonies, each with different student and teacher speakers. The graduation ceremonies will take place on June 17 unless there is inclement weather all day, in which case it will shift to the next day.

The venue for the graduation will be Ithaca High School’s Moresco Stadium, unless significant rain leading up to the day prevents construction workers from finishing the surface layer of the stadium’s track to support a graduation stage. If that happens, graduation will be held on the soccer field.

Caren Arnold, director of student activities and engagement, who is responsible for planning graduation, said Moresco Stadium was a superior graduation venue due to having stadium seating for guests and not having wet grass, while the soccer field was a backup choice.

Regardless, “everything’s going to be here at Ithaca High School, and that’s definite,” Arnold said.

Before the pandemic, it has been tradition for Ithaca High School’s graduation ceremony to beheld in Ithaca College’s Arts and Entertainment Center. Yvette DeBoer, who teaches biology and elective oceanography at Ithaca High School, and is the senior class advisor this year, said it was ideal to hold the graduation ceremony on campus.

“To have it(graduation) in your own home school I think is more meaningful than to go up to Ithaca College, or Cornell, or somewhere that is not so related,” DeBoer said. “I think it helps celebrate the school, and who those students are, and where they’ve been.”

Last year, the Ithaca High School class of 2020 held graduation ceremonies for one student at a time in Stewart Park, taking four and a half days in the first week of June to hold ceremonies for the entire senior class. Jason Trumble, principal of Ithaca High School, said this had been touted as “everyone gets a front seat to their child’s graduation,” and had been overall well-received.

“Overwhelmingly, the feedback was very positive,” Trumble said. “I think folks appreciated that we’d done something in a difficult situation in terms of safety, but we kept safety at the forefront to make sure everything was very planned and coordinated and folks knew what to expect.”

Trumble said there were some benefits to having smaller graduation ceremonies in Stewart Park. He said he was able to have five-minute talks with each of the graduates about their future plans, something that was not possible when more than 300 students were graduating together.

“I would say if had my druthers, I’d do it again that way, but that’s me being selfish,” Trumble said.

According to Arnold, many seniors wanted to graduate with their classmates, some of whom they had not seen since the start of the pandemic. Students wil alsol be allowed to bring four guests to their graduations, and the event will not require proof of vaccination or COVID-19 testing to attend.

“When the numbers opened up, it was really a no-brainer,” Arnold said. “We didn’t increase the number of graduates, we increased the number of guests to honor our families.”

DeBoer, whose daughter and stepdaughter are graduating this year, said she appreciated that her graduating children could bring four guests each. Despite this, she said that having a single graduation ceremony would be ideal under normal circumstances, since planning four separate ceremonies can be tiring for the organizers, and graduation is best when the graduating class can graduate with all their friends and family in attendance.

“That’s kind of what it’s always been, right?” DeBoer said. “I mean, Ithaca High School, we want to honor that sense of community, in the sense of everybody’s together in this, all the seniors of Ithaca High School who are graduating. It doesn’t make sense to separate that out, really, it makes more sense that everyone comes together. It should be a big celebration for all.”

Each ceremony has a maximum of 100 students, so that the total number of students and guests will not exceed 500. While some high schools in nearby towns are ableto hold a single ceremony, Arnold said it is impossible for Ithaca High School.

“You can’t compare Ithaca to other schools here in our district, or in our region,” Arnold said. “We easily have three to four times the number of many of the other schools. So our graduations are going to look different than other schools.”

According to Arnold, many seniors appreciated the ability to choose when to graduate, especially those whose parents may not be able to come at certain times. She said they deserved the opportunity to choose their graduation slot, since they knew what was best for them.

“They’ve never had a choice before on what time, they’ve never had a choice on who they graduated with,” Arnold said.

Arnold said that she is interested to learn whether there are aspects of 2021’s graduation, such as the smaller ceremonies or being held on campus, that will be retained for future graduations.

“A lot of work has been put into it, and a lot of thought, and with always the students and the families in the forefront,” Arnold said. “Always, how can we keep honoring them and give them the win that they need this year?”

DeBoer said she hoped to give the class of 2021 the best graduation possible in the pandemic.

“I think we’re good, I think we’ve done a good job, and I think we also have to realize at the same time we’re not going to make everybody happy, and that’s nearly impossible to do, but our hope is to make most people happy and provide the best celebration we can given the challenge of the times.”