by Kim Cameron
The last year of high school is often punctuated by senior ditch day, senior pranks, prom, and of course, the graduation ceremony itself full of gowns, tassels, speeches, and poignant memories. For the Class of 2020, their year may be remembered differently. They have not returned to school since their spring break began on March 16, and the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) has officially declared the end of this year’s sports.
Now Governor Jared Polis’s recent announcement that Colorado schools would not continue with face-to-face instruction leaves the school district grappling with how to honor this year’s graduates. Social distancing and mandates on groups of no more than 10 people have limited options for many school districts to gather and have a traditional graduation ceremony.
West Grand (WG) recently held virtual town halls to brainstorm ideas for graduation ceremonies, timelines and contingency plans. Present were seniors looking forward to their graduation, their parents, school administration, staffulty and school board members.
“We want to think outside of the box,” encouraged WG high school principal Liz Bauer, “We don’t want to put up roadblocks in front of ourselves. We want your feedback, ideas and thoughts.” She explained that the school could work with many scenarios and still follow government mandates and safety protocols.
Dr. Darrin Peppard, West Grand superintendent, recently lead a virtual meeting with over 100 school leaders nationwide and Canada calling in to discuss their own ideas ranging from virtual graduations, taped ceremonies, parades, delivered diplomas, drive-ins utilizing big screens, graduates in golf carts, and small get-togethers were all discussed. He has been in contact with neighboring schools. Walden decided to postpone their graduation until July 3, host their ceremony on the football field,
and have fireworks afterward.
Weighing in for West Grand, most seniors and their parents agreed they wanted a traditional ceremony and would wait. In light of future uncertainty, this brought up more questions of how long
the school district could wait .
“I am in favor of pushing it back,” said. Peppard. “I love graduations so much and I want us to be able to do that.” He also realized there could be a “dark horse” day when
it was no longer possible. School board member Mitch Lockhart questioned, “When do we lose the opportunity to have any graduation?”
Lockhart continued, “I think utilizing the date of the 24th date is a good idea. It also helps to not back us into a corner of trying to put something together later on if that ‘dark horse’ situation happens and we can’t do anything together… I think trying to gather this group back together two months down the road is going to prove difficult.”
Sunday, May 24, 2020 was the planned date for West Grand’s graduation and announcements and invites are printed. Many agree that graduates will be dispersing for work, the military and college soon after. With this in mind, seniors are still holding out for a traditional ceremony in June or July and perhaps seeing their class one more time.
Class valedictorian, Jessica Gregory commented, “We all know this is a hard time. Part of me just wants to be able to stand in front of people and give my valedictorian speech… and be able to walk across the stage for that handshake. I have been dreaming about that forever.” She understands travel bans may still not be lifted and her brother in the military may not be able to come home, but she also wants closure,
“I just want to be in the same room as my class one more time.”
This sentiment was echoed by her peers. They want to be able to still have a slideshow featuring baby pictures and pictures of themselves set to music of their choice. School administration agreed they would make this happen somehow.
Parent Shannon Jansen-Jump said it took her awhile to accept the traditional graduation may not happen, “This is not like any other graduation, they are breaking the mold, and it is kind of exciting… we have other options, just as long as the kids are happy. Celebrating the kids is the main point of it.”
Kalonie Williams, also a senior parent, echoed these sentiments, “It is not going to look like what we have dreamed it looking like…
This has been a hard time.” Though she’d envisioned family being able to attend a traditional graduation, she now hopes a traditional ceremony could be live streamed so that family could still watch safely.
As Facebook users post their graduation photos in support of the graduating class of 2020, both Dr. Peppard and Principal Bauer shared one of their favorite hashtags to come from the pandemic is #stillgraduating, and they acknowledged the resolve and resiliency this class has shown.
In closing, parents Joanna Heeney and Michele DeSanti shared their appreciation of West Grand’s administrative team. “I am really grateful… that West Grand has not just thrown their hands in the air and lost hope. I feel that people are cancelling things too soon,” said Heeney who has two sons in the graduating class. DeSanti concluded, “There is not a lot that we have any control in right now. Thank you
for including us in the process.”