Portsmouth High’s outdoor graduation will be live, maskless

Commencement ceremony set for Friday night on PHS baseball field

By Jim McGaw
Posted 6/9/21

PORTSMOUTH — What a difference a year makes.

A sense of normalcy is expected to return to this year’s commencement exercises at Portsmouth High School Friday night, thanks to a …

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Portsmouth High’s outdoor graduation will be live, maskless

Commencement ceremony set for Friday night on PHS baseball field

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — What a difference a year makes.

A sense of normalcy is expected to return to this year’s commencement exercises at Portsmouth High School Friday night, thanks to a relaxing of COVID-19 regulations.

Last spring, the Class of 2020 celebrated a graduation like no other due to a pandemic that was only a few months old, with positive cases rapidly rising and no vaccine in sight. The ceremony, held at the Newport Polo grounds at Glen Farm, featured prerecorded speeches and video of seniors walking across the PHS auditorium stage, which were then broadcast on a large Jumbotron.

Students stayed inside or near cars that were parked around the perimeter of the polo field. Graduates couldn’t even pick up their diplomas at commencement; that was done during a drive-by event in the PHS parking lot the following day.

It won’t be like that for the Class of 2021 when they arrive for graduation at 6 p.m. Friday, however.

“If everything goes to plan, (graduation) will be on the baseball field,” Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy told the School Committee Tuesday night. 

If inclement weather threatens the condition of the baseball field, the ceremony can be moved to the more robust turf field nearby, he said. If the weather is so bad that conditions won’t allow a graduation on Friday night, Mr. Kenworthy said, “then we will continue to push the ceremony back one day as needed.”

The district’s insistence on holding graduation outside — and not in the PHS field house, which has been past practice during bad weather — makes sense in light of state COVID guidelines involving public schools.

Mr. Kenworthy pointed out a recent executive order from Gov. Daniel McKee that relaxes outdoor masking requirements for all individuals regardless of vaccination status. “That executive order does allow us to include the school setting, pre-K through 12,” he said.

“Does that mean if you’re at a baseball game, nobody needs a mask?” asked Committee Chairwoman Emily Copeland.

Yes, Mr. Kenworthy replied. “You can remove them,” he said, adding the same will also hold for graduation.

Gov. McKee’s order that relaxes indoor masking requirements for vaccinated individuals does not, however, include the K-12 school setting, the superintendent said. “In other words, we are asked to keep that indoor masking requirement in place at least until the end of this school year,” he said.

The committee voted unanimously to change its masking policy to reflect the governor’s order. 

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.