High schools turn to local airports to help graduates spread their wings

Published: May. 26, 2020 at 4:48 PM EDT
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High school graduation is a time for students to spread their wings.

Several schools are getting creative in their efforts to provide a meaningful ceremony this year.

Belfast Area Regional High School Principal Jeff Lovejoy says with social distancing requirements, a traditional ceremony was out of the question. "We were sad that we weren't going to be able to offer a full graduation."

The school has 107 students in the class of 2020 scheduled to graduate mid-June.

Then they saw that drive-in theaters were able to open and had an idea.

"We started looking at sites and we have a beautiful facility right here in the Belfast Municipal Airport."

"It's quite large, it's quite open, we can get a lot of vehicles here." says Kenn Ortmann, manager of the airport.

Ortmann and Lovejoy have started planning the logistics of how to hold the ceremony.

"We're really excited to be able to offer the entire class to be together in one place with family with community members." said Lovejoy.

Belfast isn't the only school to turn to their local airport for help. Jeremy Shaw, manager of Knox County Regional Airport, got a call from Oceanside High School in Rockland.

"Oceanside approached us a couple weeks ago and asked us if we could accommodate a graduating class of 85 on the ramp."

Shaw says having a big open space seems to be in high demand.

"We've been approached by another town asking to do a town meeting here."

Both airports are also coordinating with each other, the FAA, and local pilots to have flyovers at the graduation ceremonies if weather permits.

"There are definitely hoops you have to jump through," says Shaw, "but it's all worth it. What the seniors have gone through this year, it's tough for them, and I couldn't imagine not getting together for a graduation ceremony."

"Every time I leave this airport," says Ortmann, "that's a commencement of something. A commencement of a journey. So I think there's some really nice analogies and some things about aviation that translate really well to this graduation exercise."

Lovejoy summed up the goal simply. "We just really want to give them a special celebration of a milestone in their life."