The music is always “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Someone usually quotes Dr. Seuss in his or her speech.
And someone’s family members always whoop and clap wildly when their graduate’s name is called—despite being told to hold their applause until the end.
This year’s graduations might include those traditional elements, but nothing else will be the same. Due to the ongoing pandemic, high schools have had to come up with new ways to honor this educational milestone.
In April, Gov. Tony Evers extended his “safer-at-home” order through May 26. At that time, he also closed schools through the end of the year. That date is June 30, and under those rules, even outdoor events are prohibited on school grounds.
So what’s a district to do?
In Janesville, the high schools asked seniors and their parents to provide the answer.
A survey was sent out, and students and parents were given four options. The results showed:
- 48.6% wanted to hold a virtual graduation in June and move the date of the live graduation to July 25.
- 38.1% wanted to move the date of graduation to July 25.
- 8.7% wanted a virtual graduation on the original June date.
- 4.6% didn’t want to move the date or hold a virtual graduation.
Of the 1,057 people who responded, 53.6% were parents and 46.4% were students.
The majority, or about 56%, were Craig High School parents and students. Another 37% were Parker High School parents and students, and the remainder attended one of the district’s four charter schools.
District Public Information Officer Patrick Gasper said the administration was reviewing the survey results and would soon be making a decision on the matter.
What would a virtual graduation look like? It depends on who’s in charge.
Beloit Turner High School has joined four other high schools to hire Herff Jones to manage ceremonies, said Turner Principal Christopher Koeppen. The company specializes in “educational recognition and achievement products” such as caps and gowns, class rings and yearbooks.”
For virtual graduations, the company partners with StageClip and Marching Order—companies that specialize in compiling video and other elements to create social media-ready clips.
Koeppen said virtual graduation ceremonies will feature all of the traditional elements such as the procession, the welcome by the senior class president, speeches from the valedictorian and salutatorian, music and even the requisite video of inspiring and/or embarrassing senior class moments.
The virtual procession includes images of students in their caps and gowns, and a voice actor will announce each of their names. Each of these short clips will be combined to run in succession, and all speeches and music will be prerecorded.
As students cross the stage in a traditional graduation, they flip the tassels on their mortarboards from one side to the other, representing their transition from student to graduate. For the virtual graduation, each student will prerecord the act of moving the tassel and include a short message for their families. Again, those moments will be combined to run in succession.
Finally, the company assembles what it refers to as “B-roll” video of highlights from the school year.
The event will be live-streamed. Afterward, each student will receive a personalized version of the ceremony which he or she can share on social media and a larger file containing the entire ceremony.
Beloit Turner has about 106 students graduating this year, and the cost for the event is $1,500. It would have cost significantly more if the school had not partnered with other south-central Wisconsin schools, Koeppen said.
It’s important to get this graduation right, especially this year, Koeppen said.
“It’s a rite of passage. It’s a celebration that families and students look forward to,” he said. “Our seniors have been impacted by the loss of a number of events and activities that they anticipated being a part of.”
In Elkhorn, the high school surveyed its students, and about 64% wanted the graduation ceremonies to be delayed until August, said Elkhorn High School Principal Chris Trotter. Another 25 percent wanted some type of hybrid ceremony, and the remainder wanted the entire ceremony to be virtual. Planning for the ceremony will start later this summer.
In Evansville, high school students will have a virtual graduation similar to the one planned at Turner High School. If safer-at-home restrictions are lifted May 26, the school might pursue other forms of community celebration, such as a car parade, Evansville High School Principal Jason Knott wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Like Koeppen, Knott stressed the necessity of making sure seniors are honored properly at a time of such uncertainty.
“These ceremonies and other forms of recognition help graduates and their families begin the process of moving on to the next stage of their lives—whatever that may be,” Knott wrote in his email. “Graduation is an important milestone for our students and is one of those significant events in our lives that signifies the path to adulthood.”