High School Graduation in the Time of Coronavirus: What Local Schools are Doing to Honor our Seniors

High School Graduation 2020Parents everywhere were forced to take pause when schools throughout Virginia closed earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Certainly, we understand why and appreciate how quickly our school leaders and teachers rose to the occasion. But we were left with many questions and concerns for the future – how would it all work? Would we be able to handle the stress of homeschooling? Would our kids fall behind? These were tough questions for parents, but for high school seniors, even more questions and uncertainty loomed ahead. Proms were cancelled, “senior” moments were lost, and final sports’ seasons vanished. But the big question on everyone’s mind was, “Will we have a high school graduation ceremony?”

As adults, we have the option to look back on our own high school experience with fondness or with apathy. Maybe we don’t see a ceremony as that big of a deal when we have the hindsight to know how many more major life experiences lie ahead. But for our seniors, something as “simple” as walking across a stage is culmination of their entire academic lives (and often their social lives, as well). Add to this the fact that graduation is a time for families to come together to recognize and celebrate their teen who made it to a major milestone – one that will usher them into their adult life.

We’ve definitely seen an incredible amount of creativity on the part of administrators, teachers, kids, and parents as we’ve entered this new world of virtual learning. And we want to applaud all of the efforts that have been made – from teachers who have quickly switched to online platforms to kids who have become experts at videoconferencing and have taken on new levels of independence. But today, in particular, we want to share a few of the ways in which our local school districts have found ways to honor their seniors with inventive high school graduation opportunities.

The following school districts in the Greater Richmond area have announced their plans to create high school graduation memories for their seniors with special ceremonies that respect the current health and safety concerns, while honoring their special graduates. 

If we’ve overlooked any special high school graduation ceremonies that you know of, or if you have a special story to tell about your senior and how you or your school district is honoring the Class of 2020, let us know at cs@richmondmom.com so we can share your story!

Chesterfield County High School Graduation:

Initially, Chesterfield County hoped to hold a traditional graduation ceremony later in the summer of 2020; however, it was finally decided that new measures would need to be taken. Their solution was to offer two special graduation opportunities – one in person, and the other virtual.

In-Person Graduation: June 1-12, 2020

Chesterfield County high schools will offer the opportunity for individual graduates to join up to five family members in the schools’ auditoriums for an in-person awarding of their high school diploma. These “ceremonies” will be staged over a number of days to promote social distancing, but will allow the graduates to wear their cap and gown, hear their name be called, walk across the stage, and be congratulated by the school’s principal.

Virtual Graduation: Week of June 15, 2020

Thanks to technology, Chesterfield County will also be offering a virtual graduation experience that includes a pre-recorded video for each high school to be aired on the school division’s TV channels (Verizon 96 and Comcast 26), social media platforms, and the school division website. Each video will include remarks from the 2020 Class president (or other class member), the principal, the Superintendent, and a School Board member. Additionally the class valedictorian and salutatorian will be acknowledged along with other special moments and accomplishments of Class of 2020 members. Finally, the videos will announce each graduate with their senior portrait.

Be sure to visit the Chesterfield County Schools website for more information about both of these ceremonies, including final air dates for the virtual graduation.


Colonial Heights High School Graduation:

Like all of us, Colonial Heights High School staff realized that a “normal” graduation ceremony would not be possible – so they’ve opted for the next best thing. Working with Monarch Productions, a local video and event production company, they will be producing a unified Commencement Ceremony – one piece at a time. The process will occur over three days as follows:

May 18-19, 2020: Graduates will be given a specific, staggered time to arrive at the school’s football field in their graduation attire and will have the chance to walk (with safety protocol in place) to receive their diploma and take photos. The following day, May 20, additional events will be recorded, including a performance of the National Anthem, alma mater performers, valedictorian and salutatorian addresses, and other comments by school officials.

On June 11, 2020, at 8pm, the final ceremony will be released in its entirety on the Colonial Heights High School YouTube channel. All photos will be posted and made available to graduates and their families free of charge.


Hanover County High School Graduation: 

When it became clear that a June 13 graduation ceremony at VCU’s Siegel Center was not in the cards, Hanover County started thinking about how they could make graduation a meaningful experience for their seniors. The result was to offer options – specifically, three different graduation experiences that would give families a choice, as well as a chance to celebrate. Here’s what they came up with:

The Individual Graduation Experience: early June 2020

Like Chesterfield County, Hanover County will be holding staged individual ceremonies for participating graduates and up to five family members. The events will be scheduled over a two week period and will allow seniors to wear their cap and gown, walk the stage, be honored by school administration, and accept their diploma. Staff will take keepsake pictures of seniors and their families and each senior will receive a special gift from the school.

The Virtual Graduation Experience: June 13, 2020 

To honor the originally planned date of graduation, each Hanover County high school will release a pre-recorded video on June 13 that includes remarks from the school principal, the superintendent, the valedictorian, and the salutatorian, along with a photomontage of the graduating class.

The In-Person Graduation  Experience: August 8, 2020 

With the understanding that this particular experience is dependent on a number of extenuating circumstance, Hanover County has rescheduled a modified version of a traditional graduation ceremony for August 8 at The Meadow Event Park in Doswell. For anyone unable to attend, they will live-stream the event and record it for later viewing. Again, this plan will be dependent on health regulations at the time.

Be sure to visit the Hanover County Public Schools website for more information, or check the individual school websites for detailed dates and plans.


Henrico County High School Graduation:

Henrico had also hoped to for the chance to have their scheduled graduation ceremony at VCU’s Siegel Center. However, when it became clear that would not be likely, they, too came up with creative ways to honor their graduates while keeping them safe. Henrico will be offing a three-part “senior experience,” including a Graduation Watch Party, a Graduation Victory Lap, and Cap and Gown Photo Session.

Graduation Ceremony Watch Party: June 8-11, 2020

This TV, video and social-media event will enable graduates and loved ones to watch and experience commencement from home, while observing coronavirus health and safety guidelines. It will include many of the elements of a traditional graduation, such as student speeches and remarks from local dignitaries. It is during this event that seniors will officially be pronounced “graduates.” Most important of all will be the recognition of each senior as their pictures are shown and their names are announced ceremoniously in a video slideshow, enabling each graduate to have a well-earned moment in the spotlight. HCPS’ livestream of the virtual ceremony, as well as a cable television simulcast, will allow families to plan small at-home “watch parties” to help celebrate graduates. Experiences posted on social media will make the experience a shared celebration.

Graduation Victory Lap: June 15-17, 2020 (rain date – June 18)

The second element of Graduation Celebration 2020 will give seniors and their families a chance to gather and “process” safely as a group, while enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Richmond Raceway has offered HCPS use of “America’s Premier Short Track” for a “Graduation Victory Lap,” where graduates and their immediate family members will parade in cars around the historic oval. Seniors will arrive in decorated vehicles (one vehicle per graduate, with a nine-passenger limit) and be directed to the track by a Richmond Raceway pace car. Once in “pole position,” they will be able to tune into HCPS’ student radio station to hear “Pomp and Circumstance” (and possibly other special messages!) while cruising toward victory lane. Principals will be there to wave the checkered flag as each graduate crosses the finish line while their names are announced in front of school faculty members and local dignitaries.

Cap and Gown Photo Session: Specific day and time will be determined by each school.

The culmination of Graduation Celebration 2020 will be a chance for graduates to pose in their caps and gowns, accepting their diplomas, in individual photos taken by a professional photographer. Each graduate will have a scheduled time to come to their high school, receive their diploma and pose for an iconic picture. HCPS will cover the cost of one 8×10 print for each graduate.

Regardless of how your senior celebrates their high school graduation, we know that this is truly a special class – and one that is ready to go out and do great things. So from our Richmond Mom family to all of the Class of 2020, we wish you a happy graduation and applaud you for a job well done!