Ski Town Grads Ride The Chairlift To Collect Their Diplomas | New Hampshire Public Radio

Ski Town Grads Ride The Chairlift To Collect Their Diplomas

Jun 16, 2020
Originally published on June 15, 2020 7:55 pm

Kennett High School seniors and their families traveled up a ski mountain in North Conway, N.H., to receive their diplomas.

"Out of all the different types of graduations different high schools are having, I think this is the coolest," says senior Eva Drummond. "It's the Mount Washington Valley and we're known because we have our mountains and our ski areas."

Drummond grew up skiing Cranmore Mountain, but she never expected to go up it in her graduation gown and sneakers.

"I feel like I should have skis on," she gasps as she and her family board the lift. "This is so weird to walk on the chair lift!"

Over the course of six hours, the chairlift pulls nearly 160 graduates and their guests by cable up to the summit.

For many, passing each other in the lift is the first time they've seen each other in three months. The school spent weeks planning the event to ensure staggered arrival times and social distancing.

Once in the air, Drummond looks back at the expanse of mountains, some still dotted with snow. Below her, ski trails burst with ferns.

At the top, Kennett High School staff greet the family amidst bouquets of flowers. The principal calls her name; Drummond picks up the diploma on a music stand and the family takes photos.

Before taking the lift down, they don their masks and wait for a volunteer to sanitize the chair.

Senior Medea Gargan says it's the people that make this graduation memorable.

"I'm glad they got a lot of staff out here to say goodbye to the seniors." she says. "It really means a lot - I almost cried at the top."

But there's one thing this graduation doesn't have: farewell hugs.

Eva Drummond's mother, Terry Young, says elbow bumps aren't the same.

"You build up to graduation day as being this big release of just 'Yeah, we're done,'" she says. "And you're really looking forward to that. And with a COVID graduation, you're still holding it all in."

Despite the restraint, this graduation gets high marks from students. Some in town are already asking if the school should do it next year, even if the pandemic is over.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

High schools across the country have had to come up with some creative ways to celebrate the class of 2020. One of the more imaginative ceremonies took place this weekend in North Conway, N.H. Sarah Gibson of New Hampshire Public Radio watched students and their families travel by chairlift up the local ski mountain to get their diplomas.

SARAH GIBSON, BYLINE: At the base of Cranmore Mountain, seniors and their families are boarding the chairlift to pull them by cable up to the summit.

EVA DRUMMOND: We're about to get on the chairlift. Oh, this is crazy. All right. Got to sanitize our hands.

GIBSON: Eva Drummond has skied this mountain for most of her life, but nothing prepared her for going up it in her graduation gown and sneakers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I feel like I should have skis on.

DRUMMOND: I feel like I should have skis on. This is so weird to walk on the chairlift.

GIBSON: This graduation has caused a lot of buzz. The school spent over a month planning how to do it with staggered arrivals and social distancing. Once in the air, the Drummonds pass friends and other chairs whom they haven't seen in months.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Congrats.

DRUMMOND: Congrats, Vera.

TERRY YOUNG: Here comes Andy.

GIBSON: Behind them stretches an expanse of green valleys and mountains, some still dotted with snow.

DRUMMOND: Now's the time. All right. We're in prime photo opportunity.

GIBSON: At the top, the Drummonds hop off the lift. Staff greet them amidst bouquets of flowers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hi, everyone.

DRUMMOND: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Congratulations to you.

DRUMMOND: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: For Kennett High School's class of 2020 is Eva Young Drummond.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: All right. Congratulations.

GIBSON: Drummond picks up her diploma on a nearby music stand and reunites with her family for photos. Then back to the lift, where a volunteer sanitizes the chair before the Drummonds head down.

DRUMMOND: Out of all the different types of graduations different high schools are having, I think this is the coolest.

YOUNG: Why?

DRUMMOND: Because I guess it's the Mount Washington Valley, and we're known because we have our mountains and our ski areas and all that stuff.

GIBSON: Senior Medea Gargan says the mountain part is cool, but it's the people that make this graduation memorable.

MEDEA GARGAN: I'm glad they got a lot of staff out here to say goodbye to the seniors 'cause it really means a lot. I almost cried at the top.

GIBSON: Her older brother David says his non-pandemic graduation pales in comparison.

DAVID: You beat us with the views. You beat us with the uniqueness. And you beat us with the entire situation, so...

GARGAN: And the photos.

DAVID: And the photos, maybe. Yeah.

GIBSON: But there's one thing this graduation doesn't have - farewell hugs. Eva Drummond's mom, Terry Young, says elbow bumps just aren't the same.

YOUNG: Listening to my daughter, you know, you build up to graduation day as being this big release of just - yay (ph), we're done. And you're really looking forward to that. And with a COVID graduation, you're still holding it all in.

GIBSON: Despite the restraint, this graduation gets pretty high marks from students. Some in town are already asking if the school should do it again next year, even if the pandemic is over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS")

QUEEN: (Singing) We are the champions.

GIBSON: For NPR News, I'm Sarah Gibson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.