Zoom calls, email communication, staggered schedules for teachers and students to get items from buildings, and many more alternatives have been part of the new normal in ending the 2020 school year for schools throughout the United States. As schools have had to adjust, high schools have had to take alternate routes for the pinnacle of most 12th grade students: high school graduation. Traditional ceremonies, drive-thru/parades, individual graduations, and virtual ceremonies are a few alternate avenues high schools have taken to celebrate graduates of the Class of 2020.
Traditional Ceremonies 2020
In previous years, traditional graduation ceremonies have been held in gymnasiums, arenas, auditoriums, and/or a variety of indoor/outdoor venues. They have consisted of large gatherings of family members, community members, alumni, and friends seated next to one another in order to have that perfect view of the Senior(s) they are there to celebrate. For 2020 graduation, adjustments have had to be made for traditional ceremonies. Many schools that have opted for traditional type ceremonies have held them in an outdoor venue, such as football stadiums, school parking lots, and other larger outdoor settings. High schools have made limitations on how many people may attend, such as issuing tickets for each graduate to hand out to family and friends. Attendance limitations have helped in social distancing during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Graduates/faculty members seated six feet apart, every other bleacher seating for families, social distancing signs/announcements, and optional facemasks are a few other options that schools have utilized for traditional ceremonies in 2020.
With schools opting for outdoor ceremonies as described for new traditionalism, another outdoor graduation option for some schools has been drive-thru ceremonies and parades. Some may think that drive-thru graduations are like fast food service: drive up to the school, get your diploma, and three seconds later drive away. However, that is far from the case for schools that have conducted such ceremonies. Withrow University High School’s (Cincinatti Public Schools) principal, Jerron Gray, shared about his school’s drive-thru plans, “we will hand their diplomas to them with balloons, bells, whistles, still celebrating them all along the way, still letting them know that that we care about them,” (Rogers, 2020). High schools, such as Withrow University High School, announced each graduate’s name on diploma acceptance and offered photo ops with professional photographers. Some high schools allowed graduates to decorate their cars, played music, allowed one vehicle with family members to ride with graduates, and allowed graduates to make their way through school zones/campuses in parade style fashions. Some schools, like ones in Flagler County, Florida, have taken the drive-thru/parade ceremonies a step further by partnering with neighboring race tracks, such as Daytona Speedway, to allow their graduates to drive-thru like Daytona 500 champions.
Similar to drive-thru ceremonies, schools have opted to have a variety of individualized ceremonies. Schools have held indoor ceremonial events in gymnasiums and school auditoriums differently one student at a time. For example, students choose individual times given by the school to walk across the graduation stage. Each student may be allowed a set number of guests to attend with them. During their individual time, a faculty member may meet the graduate and his/her family at the door of the indoor venue. That graduate along with his or her guest would go into the indoor venue where school personnel has the area set up for graduation (flowers, diplomas, microphone, podium, etc.). Schools have had pictures of each student on big screens/projector screens, ceremonial music playing, and photo ops, to name a few gratuities schools have provided. Once finished, the graduate and guests leave the building with the next graduate/guests preparing for his/her graduation moment to shine.
Some schools have opted to host as many guests as possible along with graduates. That is through virtual settings. Zoom calls, Skype, Facebook Live, and other digital platforms can be used to celebrate the Class of 2020 graduates. Facebook even hosted a multi-hour 2020 commencement ceremony for graduates that featured multiple celebrities and athletes sharing encouragement, such as Oprah Winfrey, Houston Texans’ defensive standout J.J. Watt, and the legendary Cookie Monster (Kacala, 2020). By utilizing virtual platforms, schools not only give viewing availability to the masses, but give the option of watching commencements at later times through recordings.
Celebrations for the Next Steps
As shared, schools and school districts have gotten creative in celebrating the Class of 2020 during this unprecedented time. School personnel have made and continuing making graduation ceremonies across the nation meaningful for students as if commencements were as normal as previous years. The Class of 2020 deserves to be celebrated just like the Class of 2019, ones prior, and the Class of 2021, ones to proceed. Some have shared that we need to celebrate this class more with all that they have lost, but I see it as a celebration of what they have gained: resilience, time, and the stepping stone to the next great thing that awaits each of their lives. Congratulations to each member of the Class of 2020! In whatever form or fashion you receive that prized piece of paper, simply put, you did it!