This year’s high school seniors are experiencing a final semester like no other, and there were emerging plans for a graduation ceremony like no other, too.
However, Monday’s announcement that local shelter-in-place orders will remain through May have likely scuttled plans for a multiday ceremony that would have celebrated graduates while observing anticipated safety requirements.
Local shelter-in-place orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic prohibit a normal graduation ceremony, obviously. Half Moon Bay High School Assistant Principal Deanna Tower was working to create an in-person experience all the same.
According to Tower, who is leading the effort to organize new graduation plans, the ceremony would have been conducted and filmed over three to four days during the week of May 18 and aired online on June 4, the scheduled day of graduation.
Tower said the plan was to invite small groups of around 20 students and families to Cabrillo Unified School District’s Event Center, on Kelly Avenue, to celebrate graduation while adhering to the social-distancing protocols. Tower said the event would have featured appropriately spaced “stations,” with a professional photographer to take photos, a name call to walk across the stage while family looked on, a congratulations from Principal John Nazar, a gift from parent organizations and the opportunity for each student to create a video with a statement.
Tower said the school developed the plan based on community input and ultimately adapted an idea from a high school in Mississippi. She said they wanted to create an event that is accessible to families and gives graduates the opportunity to walk across a stage and receive congratulations from family and school leaders.
Details of the stations and the schedule were still in development, until Monday afternoon, when health officers from six Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley announced that the stay-at-home orders would extend from Sunday — when they were set to expire — at least through the end of May. Tower said the school administration would go back to the drawing board and consider whether to postpone their evolving idea or move to a yet unknown “plan B.”
There will be some recognition of graduates. Other major graduation events normally scheduled for the spring — scholarship night, department awards and the generational and recognition cord ceremony — will happen remotely. Tower said multimedia teacher Pat Olson will take the reins in putting together videos for each event, which will feature teachers announcing academic and athletics awards and the traditional slideshow.
The generational and recognition cord ceremony, which is a staple of the local high school’s graduation, will be adapted to shelter-in-place, too. Tower said, this year, 37 graduates have parents or even grandparents who attended Half Moon Bay High School. They will receive their cords in advance and be asked to photograph family members bestowing the cord onto their graduates to be compiled into a slideshow. Tower said all of the videos and slideshows of each ceremony will be sent to families and posted online.
Pescadero High School Principal Kevin Allen said the South Coast school is still working on developing its graduation plans. The school had announced earlier this spring that activist Dolores Huerta would come to campus to speak at the ceremony upon senior Laura Gomez’s invitation, but Allen said those plans have been canceled.
Allen said the school is working on putting together a focus group that includes teachers, parents, students, community members and district leaders to create a graduation plan.