GAMBIT: “Graduation 2020 Goes on During COVID-19 School Closures”

May 21, 2020

On May 19, Gambit published this sponsored piece by New Schools for New Orleans on schools’ plans for graduation celebrations in light of COVID-19 social distancing requirements and school closures.


“We Have Been Dreaming of This Moment.” Graduation 2020 Goes On During COVID-19 School Closures

New Orleans’ Class of 2020 has been dreaming of the day when they could walk across the graduation stage and receive their diploma. This is a moment of accomplishment, pride, and hope for all that will come next.

This year, in New Orleans and worldwide, graduation ceremonies will be different. Students cannot hug their teachers or sit next to their peers. But, our educators are creative and determined to make this moment special. We spoke with leaders at three schools to learn how they are rising above the challenge of this moment to create rituals that honor and celebrate their seniors.

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Towana Pierre-Floyd, School Leader, Fredrick A. Douglass Senior High School

Douglass will host individual graduation ceremonies for each student, their family, Ms. Pierre-Floyd, and a small group of educators.

“I have known the class of 2020 since they were in eighth grade. We have all been dreaming about this moment for a long time. They worked so hard to get to this place and so this new end to the school year is a lot to process.

We have been asking ourselves, ‘how do we use this moment that is so challenging for our city, and come up with things that are more personal and more loving?’

What we have chosen to do is have a graduation with two parts, and that is the result of conversations with students and families.

First, we are doing individual ceremonies for students who opt in. Students will wear their caps and gowns and bring in their families. One of the things that have always been special about graduation ceremonies at our school is that students get hugs and love from educators as they walk across the stage. Now, we cannot do that.

So we flipped the ceremony. Students will be on the stage with their family members, so they can get those hugs from the people who know them best and who they are already in contact with, to follow safe COVID-19 practices. They still get that love. Then I will give them each a personal message from a safe distance. We think this will be a more personal ceremony that’s about each student and their journey.

We also know that students have been dreaming of this moment not just for themselves, but for the whole class of 2020. So, we have a reservation for August 3rd at 7pm at UNO for a group ceremony if things get better. The class is small enough and the space is big enough that we will be able to keep social distance.

There are so many reasons I am proud of the class of 2020, and I miss them and love them so much. I think we have planned an experience that honors them and that they will remember for a long time.”

Evan Stoudt, School Leader, and Sarah Hogarty, Director of Finance and Operations, Livingston Collegiate High School

Livingston will be hosting a socially distanced  graduation in front of the school, which will give students the chance to get out of cars and walk individually across the stage to pick up their diplomas.

“Graduation is an epic moment for everyone. A couple months before this all happened, students were reaching out and saying, ‘I need more than the twenty tickets I was allotted, there are more people that want to come and watch me graduate.’

This is an enormous achievement and kids put their heart and soul into preparing for this moment. They are already reflecting and sharing advice for the classes below them. One of our students, Jahmad, shared with us a message to give to the Class of 2021. He said, ‘it’s your year, it’s your time to create and appreciate the times y’all have with one another.’

Jahmad and his classmates can’t have those times together in person right now, but we have been doing everything possible to make a graduation experience that is emotional, memorable, and tangible, even if things are remote. We want to create a moment that kids can snapshot in their minds, share with family and friends and extended relatives, all the people that helped them keep pushing amidst challenges. When a kid walks across the stage, it’s their moment, but it is their family’s moment, too. 

Our school team was so excited for this moment as well. This is our first graduating class at Livingston. They will soon be our alumni and they will carry the torch for our school. We want them to have closure on their high school experience, ground them in the work they have done, and set them out on the next chapter of their life in a positive way.

Graduation was supposed to be Friday, May 15 at the Mahalia Jackson theater, but that was too soon to comply with the City’s regulations for group sizes. 

Instead, we are hoping to have  a ceremony in front of our school on June 24, though we know any plans may shift due to changing health directives. We will have a stage on the front lawn and families will drive in a loop around our building with staff cheering them on. Then, they will pull around to the front loop, where graduates will individually get out, walk across the stage, pick up their diploma at a social distance, and take photos. 

Depending on the regulations at that moment, families would either stay in their cars or be able to get out in small groups. We will be recording all of the speeches and streaming them as well. 

As we continue to solidify our plans, we are constantly soliciting feedback from families, seniors and staff. No matter what, we know that students will have that critical moment with their cap and gown. We are committed to making this the beautiful and uplifting experience our students deserve and expect.”

Dr. Monique Cola, School Leader, and Rachel Thomas-Little, Senior Sponsor,  CTE Coordinator and Biomedical Science and Computer Science teacher, New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School (Sci High)

Sci High will have a “drive through” graduation that will be live-streamed and recorded.

“Since we have been out of school, we have had a senior check-in every Friday. The students’ emotions are all over the place. There are lots of “it’s not fair,” some optimism that this will all blow over in time, and also some understanding about canceling to keep everyone safe. Even though they are young adults and going off to college, they are still kids, and this hurts. 

As a team, we are also sad. This is such a great group of kids and we want to give them everything they want. This isn’t how we planned to end the year. But we are also very determined to make the best out of this situation. We have to be strong for our students.  

We couldn’t be sure that moving graduation to a date in August would be any better than having it now. With all of the unknowns, we thought making something work now for students would be best. 

So our graduation plan is in person but also at a distance. We will be taking into account all social distancing rules to keep students, families, and staff safe. It will involve a “drive through” graduation.

Graduation is planned for May 27, and we are still determining the right location. Students will still get the opportunity to walk the stage to collect their diplomas while also being safe. They will arrive in cars with their families at a designated area. Students will get out of the car in their cap and gown, hear their name called, walk the stage, and collect their diploma. Parents, families, and staff will be able to watch nearby take pictures and cheer for our seniors on their big day. It’s like each student will have their own mini graduation.

Students walking the stage will be recorded and live-streamed on Youtube for family members and staff that can’t attend. We will make a full graduation ceremony video to share, that includes the guest speaker speech, the Valedictorian and Salutatorian speeches, and students walking the stage.”

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The educators of Livingston Collegiate, Frederick A. Douglass Senior High School, and Sci High have met difficulty and disappointment with creativity and optimism. Their students deserve nothing less; their accomplishments are bright spots in painful times, and we have great hope for the better future they will build.

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