WESTMORELAND — Fifty-nine graduating seniors of the Westmoreland Junior/Senior High School have been publicly recognized in the form of pictorial banners erected along Route 233 this month.
Westmoreland High School faculty member, Nicholas Darrah, said he, along with fellow math teacher and Senior Class Adviser Darlene Kemp, Principal Joshua Saxton and Westmoreland Superintendent of Schools Rocco J. Migliori, and others, wanted to do something special to recognize those seniors who lost the opportunity for a public graduation ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was a big team effort," said Darrah, in a telephone interview on May 29. "Initially, we were throwing out ideas to see what we could do, shooting emails back and forth between us, until we found this idea on social media."
Darrah explained they read about another school in the Midwest, which did the same thing, and they agreed this would be a nice gesture, not only for the students, but for the parents, family members, and friends of the students, as well as the entire community.
Darrah said he sent out the initial emails to the parents asking their permission, and then he began to research companies that could produce the banners, finally settling on an out-of-state one named Sign World.
"I would have liked to go with a local company, but none were available due to time constraints," Darrah said.
Once Darrah got the go-ahead from the parents, they needed pictures.
"Yearbook committee faculty adviser, Caitlyn Notaro, was instrumental in getting the student pictures organized and submitted," Darrah said.
The pictures also recognize extra-curricular activities for students who play in band, or are on a sports team by including their instruments or jerseys within the photograph.
Once the banners were designed, ordered, and received, the committee needed to find a way to get them placed. Putting them up on the street light poles first required approval, and Migliori said he was pleased to receive the help of Town Supervisor Ken Eisnor and Westmoreland Highway Superintendent Russell Young.
"The town has been wonderful working with us on this project, as they always are," Migliori said. "We have a great relationship with their office. I contacted Ken Eisnor about a month ago, and he took care of getting the approval through National Grid. He also contacted the superintendent at the highway department, and between both of them, plus a couple of our guys helping out, we got them done."
"It was a community effort, one that I felt was important,” Eisnor added. "We actually heard some concerns from residents this year not understanding why we didn't put out the Memorial Day flags the way we usually do. However, at the time I wasn't sure just how much pole space we'd need, so we couldn't put them up this year."
Eisnor also said he owes so much to so many, beginning with Town Clerk Jody S. Burdick, for all her efforts.
“Jody was instrumental in putting the application together to submit to National Grid," Eisnor said. "Also, the Town of Whitestown lent us the use of their bucket truck when on the first day of hanging the banners, we encountered some problems with our own."
Migliori said the banners would remain in place for approximately a month, and sometime in July, when they are taken down, each banner will be gifted to the student as a keepsake to remember their years in high school.
"So much has been taken away from these students this year," Migliori said, referring to all the pandemic related cancellations. "Including graduation, their senior awards dinner will look different. The senior prom has been rescheduled to August, and hopefully, we'll be able to conduct it then. Senior week, the senior class trip, senior class breakfast even getting their yearbooks signed, they've lost them all — so it's little things we hope we can do try to make it as special as we can during these times."
The effort was special for students, like Emily Szmurlo, who said when she first went to see the banners, she was overwhelmed.
"I got a text from one of my friends telling me the banners were up, so I went to see them," Szmurlo said. "I knew other schools were doing similar things, so I didn't think it was going to affect me the way it did. Seeing my face, and all the faces of my classmates lined up, I just started crying and was so thankful that the faculty and Mr. Migliori did something like that for us."
Szmurlo said she also had a wonderful moment with a homeowner on Route 233, demonstrating how the whole community has taken note.
"I found my banner and was walking towards it to take a picture to show my mom and my sister," Szmurlo said. "As I was walking towards the pole, the man, who was doing some yard work thought I was coming to talk to him. But when I told him what I was doing, it brought a wide smile to his face, and we shared this nice moment together that made me feel so happy."
Migliori pointed out it's not just the students they hope to make happy, but the parents as well.
"The parents deserve to be recognized," Migliori said. "We generally recognize them at graduation and the awards dinner. It's about saying 'thank you' to them for the past 13 years of supporting us."
Westmoreland Student Class President Alexis Rocco, speaking on behalf of the Westmoreland Class of 2020, said the tribute was "definitely a surprise."
"I don't think any of the students had an idea of what they were doing,” Rocco said. "We all always drive on Route 233, so now we can all see ourselves together, and since we're not together, it's a nice feeling to see us all together in this way. On behalf of my entire class, I want to say thank you to our faculty, our superintendent, and everyone who made such an effort to give this to us."