(L-R) Guidance Counselor Kayla Basham, Assistant Principal Keith Palmer and Principal Chris Stewart wait to give out diplomas to the 2019 graduates of Auburn High School. Social distancing will change the 2020 ceremonies throughout the county, but school
By Pat Brown
Graduates in Montgomery County can rest assured they will be honored and celebrated by their high schools, even though the celebrations won’t include audiences sitting elbow-to-elbow in crowded auditoriums or gymnasiums.
At a special video meeting on Friday, April 24, more than two dozen participants met virtually with Director of Secondary Education Carl Pauli conducting the meeting. The discussion centered on earlier input from and discussions with seniors. The group brainstormed to consider what possible ceremonial settings might work for this year’s graduation exercises.
“I think we had representatives present from all the stakeholder groups,” Pauli said after the meeting. Principals, senior class sponsors, students, parents, the superintendent and the director of student services (also in charge of student safety) were all tuned in for the discussion.
“We decided each school should have a live event” that complies with social distancing rules, Pauli said. They also determined that all the graduation events should occur by the last weekend in May.
“Some people wanted to wait until after June 10 to see if the rules for social distancing change,” Pauli said. But one student participating in the meeting pointed out that her family’s vacation is slated to start right after graduation, and an adult suggested that military and athletic scholarship obligations could easily be starting that early.
“We batted around ideas for the ceremony,” Pauli said, noting that there are “a dozen different” suggestions that can be seen on social media. He said school officials have come up with two plans high schools can consider.
“We call one idea the parking lot presentation,” Pauli said, noting that it would resemble what some churches are doing in lieu of sanctuary services. He set the scene. A stage would be erected in a parking lot with cars full of seniors and their families facing the stage. A sound system would carry the words of those on stage. Students would be called to the stage one at a time for their diplomas. A photographer would be on hand to take a photograph of each student’s big moment.
“Each school can nuance” this basic idea, said Pauli.
Another option is an on-stage presentation which would allow families to enter a building with their graduate and walk toward an indoor stage. They would pause, watch the young person cross the stage to get his or her diploma, then exit before the next family comes in.
For larger schools, this procedure would last a long time, Pauli admitted. The families would be arriving at timed intervals to assure social distancing, and the entire event would be filmed. The advantage to this plan is that the gaps between families could be edited out, Pauli said, so the final video would be “one continuous keepsake.”
With either type of ceremony, principals will need to wear masks and gloves, and they will have to forget about the traditional handshake.
Pauli said these ideas were shared with parents of seniors this week. He said he will confer with each principal about the results.
Other festive ideas were discussed in the meeting, and most were allowed, pending principal approval. For example, students might decide to dot their campuses with yard signs, banners and billboards as students at Christiansburg and Blacksburg high schools have requested.
Teachers might decide to form a convoy of cars to imitate a parade to congratulate their former students. Seniors, too, might plan such a parade spaced apart on foot or in individual cars if permitted by local ordinances.
Pauli said he was in favor of seniors making themselves visible in their robes in socially distanced walks that younger students can observe. “It’s good for the little kids to see,” Pauli said. “We want them aspiring to be graduates.”
Pauli said whatever choice a school makes, graduation festivities “are going to have to be well orchestrated ‘dances,’” this year, “and people are going to have to follow whatever rules are put into place for everyone’s protection.
“My heart goes out to the seniors;” said Pauli. “They’ve been waiting and looking forward” to their graduations. The group that met to come up with alternative ceremonies “wants this to be festive, memorable, special.”
“This is a huge milestone for both kids and parents,” he said. “It’s the end of a child’s childhood; it alters the whole family.”