Gifford Pulls Off Outdoor Graduation Ceremony

Gifford Pulls Off Outdoor Graduation
Posted on 07/31/2020
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On June 19th, The Gifford School hosted an outdoor graduation ceremony for our 2020 graduating class with a livestream offered to our community members who couldn't attend due to restrictions on the size of gatherings. Cars with family members parked in painted squares on the lawn in an arc facing the stage, while our ten graduates fanned out in chairs. The heat of the day hadn’t yet peaked as our speakers expressed  messages of encouragement, hope, and recognition for the achievements of all our students. It wasn’t the ceremony that anyone had imagined as the school year started, but it showed that life goes on – even during a pandemic.

 This was a year that challenged our typical way of doing things on so many levels. Students with disabilities have been especially challenged by the shift to this new world of “distance learning”. The Gifford School serves students who have not been successful in traditional classroom settings because they struggle with social, emotional, and complex learning challenges. These students in particular need a learning environment that goes beyond the world of lectures, textbooks, worksheets, and quizzes. Our teachers and staff put a tremendous amount of effort, creativity, and resourcefulness into delivering a distance learning program these last few months, but it couldn’t possibly replace the learning that’s accessible through the use of in-the-moment accommodations, sensory strategies, and skill building to support a student’s coping and self-regulation skills.

 Fortunately, the foundation that’s been created over the many months and years of working with our students is strong, built by consistent structure, patience, compassion, and trusting relationships with staff. The home school partnership, always crucial, played an even more important role during this time in keeping our students on track. Wil Fredian, Gifford’s Executive Director expressed pride in the graduates and the school community, “Today, I am as proud of this school and our community as I have ever been.”

Although much was lost this year, gratitude was abundant. Our parent speaker expressed this in a way that resonated with many families, “How do you thank a school and its staff for making your child feel understood, cared for and important? This school changed not only our son’s life but our family’s as well.”

 After the speeches, the graduates were called to the stage one by one. Although they wore masks, the smiles on their faces could not be hidden as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas. As the ceremony concluded, the staff lined the driveway in a farewell parade sending the graduates off with celebratory signs, applause, and a few tears of joy.