For some 11,000 high school seniors, graduation from Hawaii public schools is weeks away. Sadly, due to the current dictates of social distancing, there will be no ceremonies jam-packed with family and friends followed by loads of lei-giving and well-wishing on campus fields and in other venues.
Instead, most schools are organizing drive-through diploma cover pickups and virtual ceremonies slated to be live-streamed online or broadcast as videos on select media. Kudos to the state Department of Education (DOE) for embracing innovative ways to celebrate the class of 2020, and to school staffers for making them happen.
Each of the 50 public schools, including charter schools, is piecing together their own plans, informing families directly. Up first will be Campbell High School, with a pre-recorded ceremony that, in addition to featuring valedictorian and class president speeches, will include submitted photos of each grad decked out in cap and gown.
At Roosevelt High School, in-person as well as watch-from-home plans are in the works for a May 20 event. One at a time, students — each accompanied by two guests — will be admitted to the campus auditorium where they’ll take the traditional cap-and-gown walk across the stage. Everyone will wear masks, and grads will be ushered to exit to waiting vehicles.
With schools across the state closed since mid-March, seniors have been denied many of the much-anticipated events and traditions that precede graduation. Concerts, theatrical productions and sport seasons were canceled. There were no proms, no yearbook signing sessions.
In addition to the grad plans now in place, which are sure to raise spirits of disappointed teens and families, the DOE should consider scheduling large-scale class of 2020 get-togethers during the holiday season or to coincide with 2021 spring graduation.
It’s unclear when the coronavirus threat will diminish to the point where crowds can gather, but tentative plans could be set. This strategy is already in place in some higher-education circles.
While the U.S. Air Force Academy recently conducted a scaled-down ceremony, with hundreds of graduating cadets sitting in chairs eight feet apart on the school’s parade field, most institutions — including the University of Hawaii — have called off spring commencement ceremonies.
UH President David Lassner has rightly encouraged would-be attendees to “think of this moment as delayed, and not a loss.” Students who would have walked in the 109th annual exercises at UH-Manoa this month will have opportunity to take part in some sort of in-person ceremony — traditional or newly created — when commencement resumes.
Before the pandemic forced much of the economy to shut down, high school and college students poised to graduate this year could have expected to enter into a U.S. job market ranked among the strongest in recent decades. Now, facing the possibility of a recession worse than that touched off by the 2008 financial crisis, many are rethinking plans.
Higher-ed enrollment typically rises during recessions. Among other factors, income given up because an individual is in school instead of working is lower than normal. This time around, though, many would-be students don’t want to make a decision about fall enrollment until they know whether campuses will reopen — or operate largely online.
In a needed acknowledgment that COVID-19 has cast uncertainty on much of academia’s operations, the UH’s Manoa, Hilo and West Oahu campuses, along with hundreds of other schools, have pushed back the annual college acceptance day, typically May 1, to give students more time to weigh options.
Congratulations to the class of 2020! Yes, this grad season will be bittersweet. But to borrow a commencement witticism: “The tassel — even if virtual — is worth the hassle.”