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From graduation ceremonies to graduation parties — the Class of 2020 is going to have to improvise.
Months after the COVID-19 global pandemic settled in the United States, sickening nearly 1.5 million and killing tens of thousands, stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules are still firmly in place throughout most of the country.
That means thousands of canceled grad walks, parties, and celebrations, but there are still many ways to celebrate graduates and their accomplishments.
Celebrating Beyond Virtual Ceremonies
“We are celebrating graduation day with school-colored ribbons all over the neighborhood, lawn signs, banners and a Zoom graduation celebration on grad day,” said Amy Berghorn, whose daughter, Sydney, is graduating from high school in Riverside, California and is “bummed” to be missing her ceremony due to the coronavirus. “When we are allowed, we will have a large party.”
The school is also collecting at-home photos of the graduates in their cap, tassels, and gown to display during the ceremony.
Sydney is one of many bummed graduates this spring. Families, schools, neighborhoods, towns, and some very famous faces are doing everything they can to make this year’s graduation as special — and safe — as possible.
In Denton County, Texas, high school graduates will get to receive their diploma in person at the Texas Motor Speedway. Students will get to wear their caps, gowns, and masks during the hands-free diploma presentation while friends and family members watch either an online live-stream or from their cars from inside the Speedway on a 12-foot tall project screen.
President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama will be holding several graduation celebrations for the Class of 2020, including a televised and virtual commencement ceremony for high school graduates. President Obama will also be delivering a virtual statement for HBCU students in May.
Graduates Creating Their Own Celebrations
Jim Donaldson of Colorado is setting up at-home graduations for his two daughters: Hadley is graduating from high school and Mckenna is graduating from the University of New Mexico with a degree in fine arts.
“I’m probably more upset about the kids not getting a traditional graduation than they are,” Donaldson said. “We’ve discussed it and they know their grandparents, my mom and dad, were both in college during WWII and many sacrifices had to be made.”
Hadley will get an outdoor, socially distanced ceremony in a large park while Mckenna will do a virtual celebration. Hadley, he said, is already looking forward to starting college in the fall at the University of Oregon. But for Mckenna, who is graduating with honors after four years of hard work to fulfill scholarship requirements, it’s “super disappointing.”
Still, they will fête both graduates with family-wide video conferences.
“We will rely on video, Zoom, FaceTime, and social media to celebrate their respective graduations with friends and family,” Donaldson said. “Caps and gowns required.”
In New York City, Katherine Hannauer is taking an understated, yet still celebratory approach. After working as a professional violinist for about 30 years, she is now finishing up her master of science in occupational therapy at SUNY Downstate School of Health Professions, which has since been transformed into a COVID-only facility.
Though she still has 24 weeks of clinical rotations, which will likely be delayed, and her licensure exam, Hannauer was supposed to have graduated May 30 at Carnegie Hall, her first time on stage there without her violin. Her program will do a Zoom graduation, but Hannauer will celebrate at home with her husband and a special treat — takeout and a bottle of champagne“Much as we like to support our local businesses, we’re not ordering in much these days, due to restricted income for the foreseeable future, so getting a special meal will definitely feel celebratory,” she said. And when COVID restrictions ease up, “I look forward to celebrating with my classmates, whenever that happens.”
Planning Your Own Graduation Celebration
Still stuck for ideas? Here are a few more creative ways for the grads in your life:
Throw a parade: Students in Belle Chasse, Louisiana got dressed up in costumes and hopped into cars to do a “fly-by:” a drive through the decorated parking lot to say goodbye to their teachers and say thank you.
Adopt a senior: In Massachusetts, a Facebook group is connecting graduating seniors with people in the community who want to send gifts, impart wisdom, or cheer them on as they move into the next phase of their lives.
Decorate everything and anything: That means streamers, balloons, glitter, crepe paper, signs, paint, flags all over your house, your hard or your car. You can even decorate your graduate!
IOUs: Graduation might not look like what you had planned four years ago, but you can still have your party, give your gifts and take your pictures … just a bit later than you expected. No one knows when life will get back to something resembling normal, but there will always be a good time for a party.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.