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A New Hampshire high school will hold an in-person graduation – on top of Cranmore Mountain

"If we could just do something that at least was a little bit special, we wanted to."

Cranmore Mountain Resort will transform into a graduation venue for one North Conway high school this June. Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe, File

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Kennett High School is getting a lift when it comes to organizing graduation for this year’s senior class.

The North Conway, N.H. high school, which services 741 students, will hold its graduation ceremony at nearby Cranmore Mountain Resort on June 13, where the 174 seniors and their guests will be invited to ride the ski lift to the top of the mountain to receive their diplomas.

The unique celebration is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Kennett and other New Hampshire schools were forced to close on April 16, bringing senior events into question. According to the Conway Daily Sun, Rich Stimpson, whose daughter Sophie is a graduating senior, raised the idea to his wife, Pam, who works as the district’s director of special services, and officials began working – quietly – to make it a reality.

“We feel badly about the way the seniors haven’t been able to participate in the typical, traditional year,” superintendent Kevin Richard told Boston.com. “People started talking about doing these remote, virtual graduations, and we were beginning to explore, ‘What can we do with our seniors?’

“We live in a ski community, it’s a big  part of the heritage here. It’s a true celebration of the community.”

Kennett principal Kevin Carpenter reached out to Ben Wilcox, the general manager of Cranmore, about a month ago to see if they could pull off the plan. As they explored logistics – including a hike to the top of the mountain last week to map out the ceremony – both sides kept the idea a secret before presenting it to the Conway school board last Monday.

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“We’ve had overwhelmingly positive responses,” Carpenter told Boston.com. “The kids are psyched about it. They’re thankful that they’re getting a graduation, and that it’s going to be a live, in-person one. We just tried to be as outside the box as we can with this, and it’s been great.”

Both Richard and Carpenter said Wilcox, who is a Kennett graduate himself along with his daughter, and the owners of the resort were more than happy to help out, and are not charging the school district for the use of the facilities. Cranmore is located about five miles from the high school.

Each graduate, with up to four guests, will ride the quad chairlift to the top of the mountain, where they will safely receive their diploma and take a photo with Mount Chocorua and Mount Washington in the background before riding back down. The experience is expected to take about 30 minutes for each group.

Carpenter said students who are afraid of heights or otherwise cannot receive their diploma at the summit of Cranmore will be invited to participate in a ceremony at the base of the mountain.

The whole ceremony is expected to span six to eight hours, with speeches and award presentations that are usually carried out at graduation to be televised locally the night before.

“Enough has happened for these poor kids, for the Class of 2020,” Carpenter said. “They’re supposed to be celebrating all these achievements and rites of passages. All these things are happening, and if we could just do something that at least was a little bit special, we wanted to.”

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