CHHS class of 2020 responds to graduation ceremony possibilities


Photo by Darin Luehrs

Seniors gather for Class of 2020 group photo.

Every senior dreams of the moment when they walk across a graduation stage, diploma in hand. But for many, these dreams have been ripped in half – because of our present reality. With COVID-19 forcing schools to undergo distance learning this spring, many have been wondering what graduation will be like. Schools across the world are finding new and creative ways to have their 2020 graduation while also making sure everybody stays safe and practices social distancing. 

The most common assumption regarding the graduation of the 2020 class has been strictly online, or simply delaying graduation. A mass video call and reading off each student’s name does give the students a graduation and it is the safest option, but many aren’t happy with the possibility. Since graduation is a special, celebratory event, many argue that a video call just doesn’t cut it. Due to the large displeasure surrounding the idea, schools have been trying to create new ideas that keep graduation as a special eventOne popular alternative has been drive-in graduations. One community in Wichita, Kansas rented out a drive-in theater. By using this method, everyone is required to stay in their vehicles, and restrooms and concessions will not be available.

“I don’t like the idea of doing an online thing because some teachers have bad internet connections so it would take longer than normal,” Emily Medina-Esparza (12) said. “The drive-in idea is the best choice with what’s going on right now because we can be at a safe distance and still enjoy being able to walk the ‘stage’ and everyone still able to see what is going on from their cars.” 

Another school in Florida, Pembroke Pines Charter High School, is having their students walk the stage. They’re trying to keep it safe by having students wait in line with 10 feet of distance between each student. Families are not allowed to come, and pictures will be taken for each student. Clinton High School in Clinton, Arkansas is holding individual graduations for each student. Families are allowed to attend, but will have to wear masks and take a temperature screening. One family will arrive at a time, and will last 15 minutes each. They plan to put the photos together into a full-length video which will be shown at a drive-in theater, like the graduation plans mentioned prior. 

“I would prefer not doing it online because it isn’t even remotely similar to the actual experience of walking on the stage, and graduating online just gets rid of the purpose of the whole ceremony, I won’t feel as proud doing it at home,” Magaly Aguilar (12) said. “As for the individual graduations, I think the concept of doing it by yourself at first and then editing it so that it looks like we are united and happy it’s kind of a lie. I do see the point in it though, and I think it’s a good alternative for those that want that experience regardless.” 

While it is commendable for school executives to be working their best towards a memorable graduation in spite of the pandemic, there are still major concerns about safety. While a video call is impersonal and by no means the graduation students wanted or expected, it is still the safest. While delaying graduation also ensures the safety of students, the pandemic’s trajectory will determine the timeline and viability of this, and by the time graduation is actually held, the situation may have gotten worse rather than better. The CDC recommends canceling large gatherings of 250 people or more. It might be safer in the end to limit any gatherings that may pose a risk to the spread of COVID-19. Despite the recommendations, there are always going to be people who go through with big plans they deem important enough, and at the very least schools are trying to compromise in a difficult situation and keep it as safe as possible with many precautions. Risky as it can be, as long as they are doing everything in their power to keep the situation safe, it is creative and good for morale.

Many students at CHHS have been curious as to what administration is planning for graduation going back as early as the first weeks of distance learning, and just recently the School Board announced on May 12 that the original graduation date, May 28, is to be moved to June 25. Due to concerns from not only students but also staff and parents, board members decided it would be best to delay graduation in order to keep a traditional graduation like expected rather than keep it strictly online. 

 “The ability to pull off anything else besides a virtual (graduation) would not be possible and there seems to be some sentiment both on the part of the superintendent, the principal, parents and students that we might and could do something better by the students,” CHPS Superintendent Kathy Kelly said. 

No matter what Columbia Heights High School or any other school decides, everyone should do their personal best to stay safe and help stop the spread of COVID-19. If we, as a community, can all do everything in our power to be mindful of their actions and stay positive in these trying times, everything will begin to go back to normal much faster, and we will grow stronger together because of it.

Editor’s Note: After this story was finalized, it was announced that graduation for the class of 2020 will be a recorded virtual ceremony. More details will be available to students and families via email and phone ASAP.