WEST CHESTER—Chester County’s Class of 2020 graduates might not have the chance to collectively flip their tassels and toss their caps high in the air in June due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Local school districts are scrambling to make graduation memorable.
In a letter to parents, students and the community, Avon Grove Charter School Head of School, Kristen Bishop, said the institution will do its best to “celebrate this monumental occasion.”
“We all understand that the traditional events and graduations to celebrate high school seniors look very different this year,” Bishop wrote. “Setting new traditions around social distancing will be the priority in honoring the Class of 2020."
A decision will be made on June 1. Families, with 80 graduating seniors in the school with over 1,800 students, were asked to keep the week of July 13 open for one of the following options to take place: an outdoor ceremony adhering to strict safety protocols; mini graduations with presentation of a diploma, attended by 10 people or less at a time; or a drive-in ceremony.
“The Avon Grove Charter School senior families voted and are hoping for the outdoor graduation with permission from the state by July,” Bishop said. “If not, the mini graduation or the car ceremony are alternatives.”
In the meantime, the following tributes for Avon Grove Charter School will take place.
“Class of 2020 - Focused on the Future” - A social media campaign started April 23, which highlights three graduates per day.
Photos of Faces of Graduates/Success will line the State Road front lawn for the “The Parade of Graduates.”
For the annual tradition, “Project Graduation,” administrators will decorate the homes of seniors with lawn signs and present a special gift. This will take place the week of May 18, while practicing social distancing.
This year, every graduate will be given their cap, gown and an Avon Grove Charter School stool to hang on their door.
The school and the Avon Grove Charter School community will light their homes with the school’s colors — blue and gold — to celebrate graduates, during the week of May 31.
Seniors might decorate their cars and drive through the school parking lot one last time on June 5.
A decision on the prom will also be announced on June 1. The prom might take place for seniors after graduation in July, or could be rescheduled during the Thanksgiving or winter breaks.
Conestoga High School administrators have been busy making plans.
"As their four years come to a close, we look for ways to balance the disappointment of these unprecedented times while still celebrating the amazing accomplishments of the Class of 2020, meaningfully and personally, Conestoga High School Principal Dr. Amy Meisinge said in a letter to seniors. "Despite these challenges, I remain incredibly proud of the Class of 2020 for their distinct achievements, but also for the strength and resilience they have continued to demonstrate."
The principal worked with seniors, seniors' parents and staff members to arrive at with three possible scenarios for holding graduation on July 21 at 6 p.m. at Teamer Field, the school stadium. The ceremony is contingent of state regulations in place at the time and the ceremony will be broadcast on TETV and live-streamed on the internet.
If regulations are in place that still require social distancing, students and guests will be seated six feet apart. Guests may be limited. A second scenario would involve the ceremony on Teamer field with only students present.
If neither of those options is available, each student would be assigned a time for an individual ceremony on Teamer Field with a restricted number of guests. Each ceremony will be videotaped and produced into a full graduation program to be shared with families and broadcast at a later date.
A decision regarding which option they will pursue will be made by July 1 in order to finalize plans with vendors, identify equipment needs and allow time for families to make necessary arrangements.
Conestoga will also host a reception for the Class of 2020 during Thanksgiving break in November to allow for the class to reunite, reminisce, and reconnect.
The school will also hold a variety of virtual commemorative activities on Wednesday, June 3 to honor the original graduation date. Included in the activities will be broadcasting of Reflections and the Senior Lip Dub.
Conestoga’s Senior Prom has been re-scheduled for Wednesday, July 15 at The Foundry in Phoenixville.
The last day of school for Conestoga seniors is May 22. Grads will pick up their caps & gowns on staggered days during the last full week of May.
Downingtown STEM graduate Sneha Premchandran said she was disappointed at first to not attend a standard graduation ceremony.
“We will still be able to feel a sense of accomplishment and completion,” she said. “It’s important that we’re still able to walk across the stage to celebrate our accomplishments.”
Downingtown Area School District Superintendent Emilie M. Lonardi sent a pair of letters to parents and guardians of seniors.
“Our administrative team has been weighing options, researching ideas and gathering information,” Lonardi wrote, in the first letter. “Graduation is the culmination of over a decade’s worth of hard work, and we understand the significance that this ceremony holds.”
Seven hundred forty-five Downingtown Area School District graduates and family members responded to a survey. The district will incorporate all options.
“During the week of May 26, we will provide an opportunity for all students to walk across the indoor graduation stage in their caps and gowns and receive their diploma cover, all while a professional photographer captures this important milestone,” read the second letter. “As part of this celebration, we invite household family members to attend with their graduate.
“Reflecting on the sacrifices our seniors have graciously made, we felt the decision to plan for all types of graduations was the best way to show how proud DASD is of the class of 2020.”
Tredyffrin-Easttown School District and Coatesville Area School District announced plans this past week to hold both a 2020 senior prom and a graduation ceremony in July, as long as state and local regulations permit.
In Kennett, officials plan on hosting graduation Friday June 5 as originally anticipated. In the event social distancing requirements are not lifted by Gov. To Wolf, they have a contingency plan to postpone the graduation ceremony until Saturday, July 25 at 10:00 a.m. Should restrictions still be in place, a virtual graduation will be held on Friday, July 24 which will be accessible through a link on the district website. The virtual graduation will include all of the speeches, announcement of scholarships, and roll call of graduates.
At Coatesville, the district has sent out a letter to students and parents noting the importance of upholding time-honored traditions such as the prom and graduation. They plan to hold the 2020 Commencement Thursday, June 11 on a virtual platform. The district is hopeful that restrictions will be lifted later in the spring or summer and have reserved Friday July 10 for a “live” senior prom and parade, with a “live” commencement scheduled for July 16. The school sent a survey to seniors for feedback.
In the event that the governor does not lift the restrictions for large gatherings in time for the Coatesville to hold the “live” events, they will implement a plan for students and their families to participate in a car parade through the campus. To ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students and their families this process will take place over the course of several days.
The West Chester Area School District will hold virtual commencement for Henderson High School on June 3, East High School on June 4 and Rustin High School, June 5. All three ceremonies will be live-streamed.
Live graduation ceremonies are scheduled for July 26 for all three high schools if social distance guidelines are relaxed to the point where the health of district families is not at risk.
WCASD Superintendent Jim Scanlon talked about overcoming adversity.
"Our seniors are missing critically important once-a-life moments,” Scanlon said. “You never get another high school graduation.
“At the same time, this class is so resilient. I know that they will embrace this and make it their own story, one in which each of them finds a way to triumph over adversity. We will do all we can to help make this time special and memorable, and give them the graduation they deserve, even if it's ultimately not in person."
Bridget Duffy is a 2020 Rustin High School graduate.
“Like most of my classmates, I was so looking forward to the end of my senior year because it’s a celebration of years of hard work,” Duffy said. “We were forced to move on from high school before we were ready to, and at this point, many of us are just hoping for a relatively normal college experience this fall.
“Virtual graduation is not what any of us wanted, but I am grateful that we are being celebrated in the only way we can, given the present situation. I think it’s the best solution at this time because it’s a way to safely celebrate us.”
Maggie Stillman is a senior at East High School.
“The last couple of months of senior year were going to be packed with momentous events that many of us looked forward to since we were children,” Stillman said. “The idea of a virtual graduation after working hard in school for thirteen years has disappointed me significantly.
“However, I am very grateful for all the efforts administration and teachers have been putting into making sure us seniors feel remembered and important despite losing such a momentous event. While nothing will be able to replace a traditional commencement, it feels nice to still have something virtual to honor our achievement.”
Lauren Knopp is a senior at Henderson High School and will speak at graduation.
“Senior year for almost every class before us is commonly referred to as ‘the best part of high school,’ where people hold their most fond memories of their peers,” Knopp said. “Yes, we have been deprived of these memories and final moments with the adults who have shaped us, and at first, it was difficult to embrace an optimistic outlook.
“Of course, every graduating year has faced their fair share of challenges, but ours are under unprecedented circumstances. Now, our unique challenge as a class is to apply all the lessons on positivity and dealing with adversity to the rest of our lives. We had to finish our year faster than we expected, but having the opportunity to practice our teachings in real life while also having a wonderful support system of staff guiding us is a wonderful immersion in dealing with unideal situations.
“The Henderson class of 2020 is unorthodox, so it almost seems fitting to have such an unorthodox commencement. But more importantly, the Henderson class of 2020 is strong. Although virtual commencement is a far cry from what we expected, allowing the students to have closure is extremely valuable and I believe many will appreciate the ceremony, even if they don’t feel the gratitude immediately.
“As a speaker during the event, my anticipated speech will change as needed, but I hope the emotions resonate with everyone watching through their screens. Many students are not looking forward to an online graduation in fear that it will feel strange, and that is a very valid feeling. Ultimately though, we have learned to adapt to fear and find optimism in its place.
“The future is unpredictable, and we have been witness to how fast things can change. All we can do now is celebrate all the moments we were lucky enough to share together, and hope that one day (soon), we can celebrate within six feet of each other.”