By Dedra Cordle
The class of 2020 will be able to walk across a stage while wearing a cap and gown to collect their hard-earned diplomas after all.
With the approval of the state department of health and the state board of education, the South-Western City Schools District announced that graduation ceremonies would be held but in a manner that ensures the safety of the students, staff and community.
It will not look like the traditional ceremonies of the past where students and guests are packed into an auditorium, said district officials, but there will be a ceremony held at each of the four high schools to honor individual achievements.
According to Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise, a drive-thru ceremony will be held on May 23 with attendance staggered throughout the day. Students will receive correspondence from their school this week regarding their allocated time.
“We anticipate it could take upwards of five to six hours to get through the number of graduates and the individual cars,” he said, referring to the entire ceremony.
Each graduate is permitted to bring one car with four guests inside. When their name is called (and if they desire to exit their vehicles), they will get out and walk across the raised platform, receive their diploma covers and have their picture taken. Those who did not order their caps and gowns will still be permitted to take part in the ceremony.
“We know it is not what they envisioned when we started this school year,” said Wise, “but we believe this is the best way to honor their individual achievements while maintaining protocols to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”
On the following Saturday (May 30), a virtual ceremony will be held for each of the school’s graduating classes in a way that feels a little more traditional, said Wise.
There will be prerecorded speakers, speeches from the valedictorian, salutatorian and class president, as well as the singing of the national anthem and the school’s anthem. There will also be slideshows representing shared memories throughout the years.
“We believe that graduation is both an individual and collective experience,” said Wise. “With the drive-thru ceremonies, we are able to honor that individual component and with our virtual ceremonies we are able to honor that collective component.”
He said the drive-thru ceremony would likely not have been realized without the assistance of student leaders.
When the state order was made in March to close all school buildings to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus, it put senior milestones like prom and graduation ceremonies in jeopardy. With the slight relaxation of guidelines last month, the state department of education allowed for some ceremonies to take place. Due to the size of the district, officials and students knew that it was not likely to happen in the traditional sense. To ensure that something could, student leaders at each of the schools requested a work group be formed to discuss options on how to safely hold a graduation ceremony.
“They were incredibly creative with their brainstorming and receptive to the information relayed to them by the state and county health departments,” he said. “We all have a great appreciation for their work, their determination and the way they balanced competing interests without putting people’s health at risk.”
Relatedly, board of education member Anthony Caldwell offered praise and thanks to the student leaders at the May 11 meeting. He said his daughter, who is a senior at Westland High School, is grateful for the opportunity to have a public ceremony.
“She could not be more excited about the work that they have done,” he said.