For the class of 2020, the last day of high school came without warning. Students were sent home in mid-March, and since then seniors have missed out on much-anticipated activities and traditions.

“Like prom, all these major events, just getting to say good-bye to teachers you’re never going to see again and students,” said 18-year-old Milton High School senior Natalia Vega, ticking off a list of all that’s been cancelled due to COVID-19, including her final year playing high school lacrosse.

There’s no way, she said, to recoup those final months of high school and no one to blame for the way it ended, but when she heard about plans for a drive-though graduation ceremony, Vega thought the school could do more.

"Obviously, in these circumstances, we can’t have a big gathering but something like that was just kind of a slap in the face to us saying, ‘that was it’,” she said, “we’re just going to pick up our diploma on the side of the road and then leave?”

Of all the things not happening as planned this spring in Massachusetts schools, one of the most emotional losses may be the way the class of 2020 is wrapping up their high school careers. Instead of rows of high school graduates packed closely together on football fields or inside high school gyms, many schools are planning to honor graduates in ways that comply with social distancing guidelines, including online ceremonies and drive through events.

Milton’s graduation plan calls for graduates to arrive separately by car, step onto a red carpet for photos and then drive away past a long line of cheering faculty. Vega said she appreciates the school’s efforts to make the day special, but said it lacks something she and her classmates consider essential: the opportunity to be together.

Soon after graduation plans were announced in late April, she started an online petition asking the principal to at least consider an in-person graduation later this summer. More than 600 people signed it.

Milton is hardly unique. From Lawrence to Worcester to Quincy, students and parents in at least 15 Massachusetts communities have launched change-dot-org petitions demanding delayed, in-person graduation ceremonies. And across the country, the website reports that more than a half million people have signed similar petitions.

Even at a time when so much has changed, the message to school administrators is clear: disrupt the ritual of high school graduation and people are going to get upset.

“I wasn’t surprised because when you go against tradition, inevitably, you’re going to get some questions,” said James Jette, principal of Milton High School.

Delaying graduation said Jette seemed unfair for students who may have already left town by summer and he didn’t think it made much sense when so many summer traditions, from Boston’s Fourth of July fireworks to the Olympic games, had already been called off. A drive-through graduation he said seemed like the safest option — for everyone.

“Believe it or not I got some people who say ‘well if they’re not healthy, they shouldn’t come’, and I don’t think that’s a fair thing to say or ‘who cares about the parents’, and this was a parent that said, ‘who cares about the parents, just do it for the kids’, “ he said. “But that’s your opinion and there’s other parents who want to be able to see their kids get a diploma and be able to take a picture, this is way of being inclusive.”

Some communities have moved back graduation until the summer, including Danvers. School committee David Thomson, whose daughter is part of the graduating class, said the district made the call early.

“I think because I have a senior, and I have friends that have seniors, and I just kept hearing overwhelmingly we want to do something in person,” he said. “Kids want to be together, they want a sense of community.”

New state guidelines issued last week do allow for outdoor graduation ceremonies starting July 19, with restrictions, including spacing non-family members six feet apart, discouraging people who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 from attending and limiting attendance to the graduates’ immediate family members. There’s another caveat: those summer graduation ceremonies can only happen if public health data around Covid-19 allows the state to continue its reopening plan.

“The big word we’re using in Danvers right now is tentative, because we don’t know what the situation is going to be like two months from now,” said Thomson.

Uncertainty is certainly something the class of 2020 understands. What they may yet learn is that, unlike many graduations, this year’s — whatever form it takes — will be hard to forget.