BRANFORD — No one in the Branford High School Class of 2020 ever asked for a commencement ceremony like the one many of them took part in Sunday and Monday, but they all got something they likely never had dreamed of asking for.

A graduation ceremony unlike any other, past or present.

Branford High does things a little differently from many high schools. But it’s safe to say that its graduation ceremonies — there will be a total of three of them plus a tassle-moving ceremony when all is said and done — are unique to the school.

The ceremonies began Sunday evening when the school streamed and posted all the traditional speeches that make up the bulk of the annual commencement exercises.

They continued at 10 a.m. Monday when 80 of the 236 members of the Class of 2020 took part in a drive-through graduation ceremony in which they were able to drive up to four raised platforms on the high school football field with their families, receive their diplomas (actually just the diploma holders,) take photos with administrators and their families while wearing their red caps and gowns, then drive out.

Those graduates — who were cheered-on by teachers in black gowns as they drove away from the field — were to return via the school’s website at 6 p.m. to join Principal Lee Pangoulias Jr. to move their tassels from right to left together as he officially pronounced them graduates.

The final “alternative” ceremony will be Aug. 3, when the 156 members of the Class of 2020 will formally graduate under conditions that they and everyone involved hope will be less restrictive than now — although nobody has any guarantees that will be the case.

“I would say that I’m pretty excited to be here,” said graduating senior Alison Chadwick, who plans to attend Gateway Community College the next two years before transferring to a four-year school to study veterinary technology.

Alison rode up in her mother Dana’s vintage Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, which had a flower arrangement mounted on top where the emergency lights would be with foot-high, gold “2020” numbers facing the front.

“She’s my baby,” Dana Chadwick said. “It’s a tough one, but I’m so proud,” she said.

“I think the school did a good job with what they had,” said graduating senior Chris Borst as he waited in line in his family’s car. “I’m still with my family, so it’s OK.”

“It’s bittersweet, because he’s the youngest of four,” said Chris’ mother, Jene Smith. “I feel like the time just flew by so quick,” she said.

During the virtual ceremony posted Sunday night, Panagoulias told students, “Although you are experiencing this part of the ceremony at home, we hope you are able to be with family, friends or someone that has been important to you along the way. The words that you hear today are not in person but I know that each word that is spoken will come from the bottom of each person’s heart.”

The virtual ceremony honored Valedictorian Diana Karosas, Salutatorian Joshua Josephy-Zack, Faculty Key Award winner Melanie Sachs and gave recognition to Class Advisors Alicia Loesche and Chris Stonier.

Class President Hailey Brunner told her classmates, “Well, we made it. We have accomplished one of the major milestones in our lives. Although this is not how any of us pictured our high school graduation would look like, that does not diminish the dedication, hard work and passion we have all displayed for the past four year.

“Plus, how many people can say they’ve had commencement speeches given by Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and Cardi B?” she asked.

“We are not just the “quarantine class,” Brunner said. “We are the class that won state championships, earned gavels and protested for change, the class that always said ‘thank you’ to our teachers at the end of each period and organized fundraisers in our town, the class that one day will change the world.”

Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez told graduates that “today is like no other day in your life. You have reached a milestone that some believe and feel has been overshadowed by a pandemic and national unrest, both being historic and profoundly consequential.”

But “throughout each crisis, you have persevered and worked hard to achieve personal goals despite the inherent challenges stemming from the dramatic shifts that we are experiencing,’ Hernandez said. “Recent events have awakened our nation and today your role as a thoughtful, active, creative and committed global citizen is needed more than ever.”

Board of Education Chairwoman Shannen Sharkey said graduates “have a unique story to tell” and “have shown grace by recognizing that the needs of others may be greater than the needs of yourself at this time ... You will have stories and memories to share that no other graduating class will.”

Commencement speaker and Social Studies teacher Joel Hinrichs told the class, “You are entering the world beyond Branford High School when our country is facing serious divisions in terms of race and politics not seen in generations.

While they might feel they missed out on certain things because of the coronavirus pandemic, “These rights of passage are not the story of your senior year,” he said. “They are merely the setting. Your setting will be different, but the story that you take away from high school is one of relationships, and no virus can rob you of that...

“You will not get your senior year back, but you will never lose that time your friend sent you a funny text message because you were feeling down,” Hinrichs said. “You will not get your prom back, but you will always remember when your friend hung out with you because you had a broken heart ... You will not get Senior Skip Day back — who am I kidding, you had three months off!”

Connecticut Media Group