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When 88 Houlton Middle-High School seniors graduate on Thursday, it will be without much of the traditional fanfare. They haven’t been in school for months and many regular activities were scrapped due to COVID-19.
But they’ll have something that past Houlton classes never dreamed of: A special video for them featuring actors, athletes, politicians — heck, even Dr. Anthony Fauci makes an appearance — wishing the Aroostook County grads the best.
All the project took was a principal with a pretty cool idea.
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“I thought that it was important, given all that the students have missed, that we find a way to go above and beyond, and do something special,” Principal Tim Tweedie said. “This idea had come to mind, and I said, ‘I’m gonna try. We’ll see.’”
Tweedie, who was named principal in April, began sending out emails and direct-messaging Twitter accounts of celebrities about two months ago, when he was still an assistant principal at the school. In his pitch, he asked for celebrities to send video messages that would fit into a graduation video. It didn’t take long before he began receiving replies.
“[Tennis hall-of-famer] Billie Jean King was the first one who responded back to me. I have her on Twitter, and I sent her a direct message. Two days later I got a response saying ‘I’d be happy to,’” Tweedie said.
Then the sales pitch got much easier.
“From there, you’re able to tell people, ‘Billie Jean King is sending a clip, maybe you could as well,’” Tweedie said with a laugh.
Some of his work involved cold-calling, or messaging, fan pages of celebs. Some involved networking with Mainers like Bill Green and Tim Sample, who suggested others who might pitch in.
But there was another tactic that worked just as well.
“It was a whole lot of groveling,” Tweedie said.
Tweedie said he sent out between 100 and 125 requests. Among the 23 celebrities who replied with video greetings: Boston Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke, Boston Bruins star Zdeno Chara, senators Angus King and Susan Collins, actor Brian Baumgartner from “The Office,” and Fauci, the doctor who has become the face of the Trump administration’s response to the ongoing pandemic.
Tweedie said he was most surprised by Fauci’s response.
“It was a shot in the dark. I went on the National Institutes of Health [website]. I thought, ‘They probably don’t list his email address,’ but sure enough, it was there,” Tweedie said. “I said, ‘This man is getting inundated, but I’m gonna try.’ An email came back that said, ‘Dr. Fauci is busy, but he tries to get to all of his emails, so there might be a delay.’ A couple of days later, there was a video from him.”
While many of the comments consisted of boiler-plate graduation wishes like “congratulations” and “work hard,” others messages were delivered as well.
Baumgartner, who plays the balding Kevin in “The Office,” seemed to relish the chance to work on his comic chops during the pandemic hiatus.
“Principal Tweedie, your principal, asked me to send you a message. Now, I understand you are graduating this week. Nice! Congratulations,” Baumgartner said. “Let’s face it. Some of you never thought that you would graduate. But you did. Yes!”
Later in the video Baumgartner suggests that at some point in the summer, when it’s deemed safe, the graduates should get together and party. And nothing says party like chili, according to the actor.
Actor David Koechner, who plays Todd Packer in “The Office,” also added some levity.
“Hey, what’s up, my nerds?” Koechner said. “What has two thumbs and loves the Houlton High School class of 2020? This guy!”
Lewis Cleale, a Houlton High alum who is appearing in “Book of Mormon” on Broadway, was among those who offered congratulations.
“I know you’re not going to be able to hold your typical Houlton High School gymnasium, sweaty, June pomp and circumstance, in-person graduation ceremony, like everybody else since the beginning of time, but don’t let that reality diminish the fact that you have done something really amazing, really incredible, and really long-lasting for your lives,” Cleale said.
Tweedie posted the video on Tuesday night on YouTube, and many students and parents reached out to him to tell him they enjoyed it. There was one thing missing, however.
“My one regret is that we couldn’t have an event where we were all together. I would have loved to have been able to see their reactions, but obviously that’s not possible given the circumstances,” Tweedie said. “But it was still neat to hear the reactions from the students, and the parents as well.”
Do you have an Up Beat story to share? John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.