When incoming rain imperiled Colonial Heights High School’s graduation plans, schools Superintendent William Sroufe jumped into action.
With the help of about 15 people, all 209 graduating seniors were called individually, asking them to report to the high school football field May 17 instead of over the following two days.
“I don’t want to have this inside; these kids have lost so much,” Sroufe recalled thinking.
Across Virginia, school systems are finding creative ways to honor their graduating senior classes after traditional ceremonies were canceled due to COVID-19.
In Colonial Heights, seniors donned their red caps and gowns and were filmed walking across a stage on the football field receiving their diploma sleeve, a nod at the classic ceremony. To maintain social distancing, they went at staggered times. The valedictorian, salutatorian and class president speeches were recorded, along with alumni performances, a senior soloist and an instrumental version of the national anthem.
Most walked May 17. Some were filmed the next day, walking across a stage set up under a 30-by-30-foot tent to avoid the rain.
Students were allowed to bring up to four guests with them, who watched as the graduate moved between stations, picking up a sash or pin, receiving their diploma sleeve, grabbing a cookie and taking a family photo with a homemade Virginia LOVE sign.
On June 11, instead of heading to the football field to graduate in person, students and their families will virtually watch the ceremony, beginning at 8 p.m.
“I wanted it to be as authentic as we could make it for our students,” Sroufe said.
The city school system will hold two ceremonies: one virtual and one in person. Seniors will be able to choose which one they would rather participate in, Superintendent Jason Kamras said.
“Why not do both?” Kamras said. The virtual celebration will be a video featuring valedictorian speeches and other conventional rites of graduation.
For in-person celebrations, students may select three guests for a ceremony held either on a football field or in an auditorium, depending on each high school’s facilities. Students will be able to wear their cap and gown and have their picture taken. To maintain social distancing, students will come at times designated by last name.
Kamras said he was inspired by Louisa County’s socially distant graduation on a football field last month, where students took pictures in their cap and gown.
The Henrico County school system will hold a series of events next month to honor the senior class.
On the week of June 8, the district will host virtual commencement ceremonies featuring speeches by students and remarks from local dignitaries that graduates and their families can watch online.
In addition to the commencement “watch parties,” Richmond Raceway will give families access so they can parade around the racetrack in their cars for ceremonies the same week. School principals will wave checkered flags as the names of graduating students are announced. A student radio station will play “Pomp and Circumstance” during the ceremony. Students and families from different high schools will be invited.
The district will also host professional photo sessions for seniors in their caps and gowns at their respective schools and cover the cost for one 8-by-10-inch print for each graduate. Specific days and times for the photo shoots will be determined by each school.
Chesterfield and Hanover
Both Chesterfield County Public Schools and Hanover County Public Schools are offering individual in-person graduations during the first two weeks of June.
Seniors in both school systems can arrange individual ceremonies with up to five family members or special guests at their respective high schools. As the student’s name is called, they will walk across the stage dressed in their cap and gown to receive a diploma.
Beginning the week of June 15, Chesterfield schools will air individual virtual ceremonies for all of the county’s 11 high schools. The taped ceremonies will feature traditional graduation remarks from the superintendent, a School Board member, each school’s principal and the senior class president. Each school’s valedictorian and salutatorian will receive an acknowledgment but will not give a speech.
Chesterfield and Hanover will offer opportunities for the student and their family to take photos, and Hanover will provide its seniors with a gift.
For Hanover schools, on June 13, the day of the scheduled in-person ceremonies, each high school will host a virtual ceremony, complete with speeches from the superintendent, the school’s principal, the valedictorian and the salutatorian. Each high school will add personal and memorable touches to the virtual experience.
The school system is scheduled to host in-person ceremonies at The Meadow Event Park in Doswell on Aug. 8. All four high schools have a time slot for that Saturday, which will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend. However, the August date might change due to COVID-19.
Hopewell City Public Schools kicks off graduation festivities Thursday, with administrators driving around to all graduating seniors’ homes to drop off a yard sign and handwritten note from teachers.
The festivities will continue the first week of June, first with a drive-thru celebration at Hopewell High on June 1 and then with in-person ceremonies held June 2-4. Students will graduate between 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. each day, with rain dates set for June 5 and June 6.
Petersburg City Public Schools is sticking with a traditional graduation ceremony and has no virtual experience planned at this time. For now, graduating seniors are expecting to attend an in-person ceremony in August at Virginia State University. The district will look into a virtual event closer to then.