Graduation Ceremonies Adapt During Pandemic

By Karen Xu

As the school year starts winding down, members of the Class of 2021 are preparing to say their last goodbyes and celebrate their accomplishments before moving on to the next chapter of their lives. But amid a pandemic, graduation ceremonies have had to adapt. 

This year, Loudoun County Public Schools announced that all graduation ceremonies would be required to happen on the high school campus. In previous years, many were held in Fairfax County at the larger EagleBank Arena on the George Mason University campus, and there had been plans last year to hold some at the Ion International Training Center in Leesburg. For their on-campus programs this year, students are limited to bringing five guests per student, and some schools require wearing masks during the graduation ceremony. 

“Last year we did individual graduations, so we had 383 like one- or two-minute little ceremonies where everybody got to walk across the stage on the football field and their family. So that was an option this year, and then we had a socially distanced option, and then the traditional, and we’re kind of doing something like in between a social distance and a traditional,” said Brie Allis, the senior class sponsor at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville. “And the real reason for that is it keeps changing and changing.”

In planning graduation this year, she described having to make three different plans, which include a traditional graduation, a socially distanced graduation, and an individual graduation along with the logistics of each version.

Tripp DiNicola, an assistant principal at Riverside High School in Leesburg, described similar challenges in planning for graduation in a world of ever-evolving COVID-19 guidelines.

“There were so many different options that we had to look at that it really meant we had to have a backup plan, and based upon the feedback and the information we got from the county in terms of regulations with COVID, we could make adjustments and then finally make our decision about where we’re going,” DiNicola said. “It really is about flexibility and having all of your ducks in a row in terms of planning to make sure that everybody is absolutely on par and knows what’s going on.”

Dominion High School Principal John Brewer agreed.

“We’ve planned many graduation ceremonies before. Even under normal circumstances, this is a very complex process,” he said. “Under extraordinary situations like this, it requires a whole new plan, which adds many more intricacies to the planning process to ensure that all bases are covered.”  

The Academies of Loudoun also is changing the way it does graduation this year. Instead of the in-person ceremony of previous years, the Academies will be holding graduation virtually. It also had a mini ceremony during school for each of its three programs where those studying in person walked across the stage in the auditorium to shake hands with the principal and receive their diploma.

Many seniors across the county wish there weren’t as many restrictions, especially the limit on guests, but are grateful for the semi-normal graduation proceedings.

“Some of my family is flying out to come see me graduate, meaning I have to pick between them who I would rather see me graduate,” Woodgrove senior Lindsay Bergman said. “That’s kind of become an issue because my brother-in-law thinks I hate him and is mad that I’m not having him go, but it’s him or my brother, you know what I mean?”

“I feel sad because I would love if more of my family could come and watch me graduate, so it really limits a lot of family things that someone may have been able to experience before COVID, and the other guidelines really just make graduation not really seem like a real graduation,” John Champe High School senior Kayla Huycke said. “I feel that with a real graduation, you can have more people that you feel have supported you through this journey see you accomplish something huge and with the limits we have, that can’t really happen.”

Saanvi Kancherla, a senior at Briar Woods High School, said that, while she understands why the limitations are in place, she wishes she could bring all of her family to her graduation.

“I’m glad that they’re trying to do the best with current circumstances. It definitely sucks, but they’re trying.”

Click here for the full schedule of the graduation dates for each high school in Loudoun County.

Karen Xu is a Freedom High School senior who completed her Senior Capstone project at Loudoun Now.

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