The effects of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) have been undeniable and will leave a lasting impression on us all. Specifically, this school year presents extraordinary challenges to school districts, which directly impacts employees, students, and families. Although many of these challenges are addressed, others are more complicated. For many, the 2020 graduation ceremonies are a pivotal part of student life that may be changed by COVID-19, but the virus also provides an opportunity for districts to reimagine celebrations in a number of ways.  We consider several alternatives to the traditional graduation ceremony that school districts may choose to implement for their 2020 graduates and hope that everyone shares in the joy that this momentous occasion brings. 

In-Person Social-Distancing Ceremony

A social distancing graduation allows for an in-person ceremony that utilizes social distancing procedures to protect the health of all attendees. In selecting this option, a school district may conduct its graduation ceremony at the local school stadium or at a local venue and proactively implement measures to preserve the maximum amount of personal space for the duration of the event. This option preserves the familiarity of the traditional graduation ceremony and may be attractive for smaller school districts that are able to effectively ensure social distancing between attendees.  Districts using this option should consider limiting event tickets, effectively communicating social distancing guidelines (seating placement, hand sanitizing, mask usage, etc.), and implementing day-of plans to ensure that the guidelines are upheld.

Drive-By Ceremony

A drive-by graduation ceremony is an option that limits social interactions while still allowing graduating students to “walk” on stage and receive their diplomas. Students are assigned a specific time to arrive at the school when they are instructed to enter the school, walk the stage as if participating in a traditional ceremony, and issued their diplomas. To limit social interactions, school districts may allow students a limited number of guests that may accompany them to the ceremony and offer a complete recording of the ceremony at a later date that may be shared with loved ones.

Drive-Up Ceremony

A drive-up ceremony offers graduating students an opportunity to be recognized in person without physically exiting their vehicles and “walking” to receive their diplomas. Here, students are assigned a specific time to arrive at the school, when they are congratulated for their accomplishments by staff members without exiting their vehicles. Schools utilizing this option may use yard signs or similar props to commemorate the accomplishments of the graduates.

Online Ceremony

An online graduation ceremony recognizes graduates remotely. Graduates may send photos, videos, and short speeches that are compiled into an online presentation by staff. Further recognitions such as scholarship recipients and outstanding achievements may be acknowledged virtually within the presentation. The presentation may be shared with students and their guardians, so they can celebrate their accomplishments. Additionally, school districts may elect to follow this type of ceremony with an auto procession when the family can drive up to the school, and staff may cheer the graduates as they are awarded diplomas.

Combination Ceremony

A combination graduation ceremony is a blend of a restricted graduation ceremony (one of the former options) that is offered to students now while later committing to providing an in-person ceremony at a time when social-distancing restrictions are relaxed.

Reschedule Ceremony

Lastly, school districts may elect to reschedule their 2020 graduation ceremonies until a later date, such as August or September 2020, to have a traditional in-person graduation. School districts considering this option should remain conscious of the uncertain future of COVID-19 as they plan graduation ceremonies and share the need for flexibility from all involved moving forward.

There is no perfect solution to the impact that COVID-19 has on 2020 graduation ceremonies. However, school districts may offer an efficient alternative to relieve the frustrations of many graduating students and their families during this time. As the school year comes to an end, school districts that are unsure of how they will address these concerns should consider creating a task force to discuss their graduation ceremony options and decide on the most effective route given their specific conditions. It is strongly urged that all graduation ceremony decisions are made considering the impact that each option will have on graduating students, their families, and their communities.  Also consider virtual options, recordings, and other electronic ways to share your district’s love for your students that may be combined with flyers, posters, and other creative ways to highlight the class of 2020.

White & Story wishes all 2020 graduates success, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families during this time as we navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19 together.