All-School Handshake pushed back due to COVID-19 concerns


Photo by LFA Archives

Students, faculty, and staff participate in one of the first All-School-Handshakes.

Nick Alutto, Editor-in-Chief

This year marked the first year, since its integration into the culture of LFA, that there was no All-School Handshake. The tradition, which sees every student and faculty member at LFA shaking hands, had to be cancelled along with many other opening of school traditions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Although many students and staff miss this tradition, it was clear that the handshake could not go on in a time when public safety is such an important factor of our everyday lives.

“With COVID…the thought of doing this [the All-School Handshake] when there is a terrifying disease going around is just frightening and I would never do it,” Conor Fryer ‘21 said. “It was sad losing out on a tradition, especially in senior year, but given the circumstances, I think it was a necessary choice that we had to make,” he added.

“My initial reaction would be like, ‘how much GermX could I fit in my purse,’” said Kimberly Graham on what her reaction would be if there was the All-School Handshake at the beginning of the year.

The All-School Handshake serves as a tradition built to connect the community at the beginning of every school year. Dean of Students Chris Tennyson sees it as an invaluable tradition that welcomes everyone back to campus.

“It is a symbol of our community. The fact that every student and faculty member and staff member shakes each other’s hand and says hello and kind of welcomes them to campus or back to campus is just something that again I think helps unify the people on campus,” Tennyson said.

The pandemic itself may have been the driving factor around the cancellation of the All-School Handshake, but it was not the only thing considered in the decision to cancel it. The lack of the full community being able to be in-person was also considered in the decision making process towards the end of the summer.

“We began to realize that we were going to approach 90 remote students, some of our faculty were going to teach remotely, and some of our administrative staff were going to work remotely. We all of the sudden began to realize that as a community we were not all going to be on campus,” said Tennyson.

Although not an extremely old tradition, the All-School Handshake does have a relatively long history at LFA, since its implementation a little over two decades ago. Rita MacAyeal, LFA’s archivist talks about the beginning of this tradition.

“The best we can tell that [the All-School Handshake] dates back to 1996, when there was a new headmaster Tom Harvey who came in for a couple of years and he was the first headmaster that held the handshake. Although, I believe, as I understand it, the idea was presented to him by a faculty member who had seen it somewhere else,” MacAyeal said.

MacAyeal also spoke to  how pandemics are not necessarily an entirely new situation for LFA as a school.

“We actually do have a couple other times in our schools history when there were pandemics. There was the flu in 1918 and there was another pandemic at the beginning of the 1900s. Just a local one, I believe another flu, where we had to quarantine and close the school,” MacAyeal added.

In the months leading up to the opening of school, alternative ideas were presented as creative and safer ways to do the All-School Handshake, like having it outside in places like the quad. However, some ideas were presented to limit physical contact between people.

“One of the things that we thought about in trying to make the All-School Handshake doable, and we actually have these so I don’t know what we are going to do with them, but we have like 500 foam fingers that say like ‘go caxys 2020/2021.’ So our thought for a while was that you could hold out the big foam finger and just touch foam fingers with the people across from you,” Tennyson said.

There may be hope for this tradition before the school year ends. Tennyson described the possibility of hosting the All-School Handshake sometime in the second semester if  health conditions allowed for it and  if more of the community was able to be back on campus. More than anything, the next time the All-School Handshake occurs, whether sometime this year or at the beginning of next year, it will mark a shift from the 2020 pandemic era of LFA to a time closer to the normal way of life of the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

“I think when our community has the opportunity to come together—whether that’s as an All-School Handshake, our first all school meeting, for move up day or graduation in spring, whether it’s for prom. Any of those traditions, if we are able to do it, I think is going to signify that we’re back and closer to normal again.” Tennyson said.