Coronavirus robs graduation ceremonies from high school seniors and their families

Friday, April 24, 2020

High school graduation ceremonies are just another loss for this academic school year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting school closures.

Not even coronavirus-forced school closure and cancelled graduation ceremonies can take away Anthony Medina’s mother’s pride: Medina, after all, will be the first in the family to graduate from high school.

His mother, Yadira Mora, has always planned to celebrate this family’s milestone for Medina, a senior high school student at University High senior. That’s not likely to happen at the Westside school—or any other California campus.

“We’re pretty sad about that because he’s going to be the first to actually walk with cap and gown and everything,” Mora said. She and her husband, a gardener, both made it to 12th grade at local California high schools but neither earned a high school diploma.

This week California’s top education officials said what many had been expecting but did not want to hear: Don’t expect traditional high school graduation ceremonies for the 2020 class. This announcement was yet another disappointment for California high school seniors who lost their prom, senior sports banquets, their last bows at the spring musical and other memories.

I’ve had many conversations with educators and parents, and we understand it’s difficult,” said Tony Thurmond, the state’s superintendent of public instruction. “We understand it’s disappointing for those of you who would hope to be in a graduation procession in May or June.”

“Quite frankly, we just don’t know when it will be safe enough for our shelter-in-place and our statewide stay-at-home order to be lifted,” Thurmond said.

L.A. school board member George McKenna, who has rose through ranks after being a teacher and a principal, said the ritual is simply too vital to casually cast aside.

“We can mail a student a diploma, but the graduation ceremony is an irreplaceable event for the rest of the student’s life. And it is also an event for the family. Students don’t get to this position by themselves. The family has supported themselves since the day they were born. They want to see this. And they need to see this,” shares McKenna.

“We worked a valuable 12 years” to reach this point, said Mya Edwards, 17, a senior at Venice High School. Edwards shared that they understand it is not likely possible for ceremonies to happen in June, but they want assurances that the class of 2020 doesn’t get skipped over.

L.A. schools Superintendent Austin Beutner has already brainstormed how to manage the situation with the school board’s official student representative, a senior at Carson High School. Suavillo, an immigrant from the Philippines, will be the first family member to graduate from a U.S. high school.

Students across the state are still holding out to some hope. Riona Sheik at Whitney High School in the ABC Unified School District in Southeast L.A. County shares, “We have so far heard that they still want to hold a physical celebration but they’re not sure how and that they are exploring ‘virtual graduation options.’ Being from an immigrant family, graduation as [always] super important to both me and my family. To me, I feel like my high school graduation would be my first achievement that would really justify my parents’ decision to come to America. Even more than that, I feel like I’ll never really get closure on this chapter of my life and I won’t be able to feel validated that all the work I’ve put in over 13 years was worth it.”

Thurmond, however, like Governor Gavin Newsom, does not expect campuses to reopen before the end of the academic school year. Both officials have emphasized that schooling needs to continue by distance learning and virtual classrooms with online education methods.

They’ve recognized that many students, particularly from low-income families, are in danger of losing academic ground. Newsom said for the first time on Thursday that state officials are in preliminary discussions to provide additional academic support over the summer.

Thurmond said this could include summer school or Saturday classes—and he shared with Newsom that there would be more funding needed. The risk of disrupted learning is acute for seniors who still need to complete graduation requirements.

L.A. Unified is spending $100 million on technology for internet hot spots and up to 200,000 computers to loan to students. Officials prioritized helping high school students first because they are closest to graduation.

Districts across the state are struggling with how to measure attendance, how to alter grading and how to satisfy graduation requirements—and even how to get back deposits placed on venues where proms and graduations would have taken place.

Los Angeles school board member Nick Melvoin said the school district would need to find creative ways to mark graduation, whether it’s in late summer or even during the Thanksgiving break.

Ideas should extend beyond graduation.

Mora, Anthony’s mother, said her son is on track for graduation but that it’s more difficult for him and her two younger children to focus on academics outside of the normal routine.

“It’s not the same as in school, but the teachers are doing amazing” on FaceTime and Zoom. “The teachers are checking up. They’re calling him. They’re calling me. So it’s helping. We just wish they could go back to school.” With or without formal festivities, “We’re proud of Anthony, and we’re planning on celebrating,” shares Mora, “but after all of this is over.”

Get Instant Information about the University

By clicking “Get Information Now,” I hereby authorize, their dependents, subcontractors, or associates to contact me in regards to education proposals offered by universities in the United States.