Commencement postponed, supplemented with virtual “celebration”

The+Class+of+2020+won%27t+have+a+traditional+graduation+ceremony+on+May+20+as+planned.+The+district+hopes+to+hold+commencement+later+in+the+year+but+is+planning+a+virtual+%22celebration%22+in+the+meantime.+

Courtesy of Taliyah Holloway

The Class of 2020 won't have a traditional graduation ceremony on May 20 as planned. The district hopes to hold commencement later in the year but is planning a virtual "celebration" in the meantime.

Katherine Esterl

Atlanta Public Schools commencement ceremonies are “officially on” but postponed until late July or later, according to Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen. 

The district hopes to find a date when large social gatherings will be permitted under the Georgia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control guidelines. 

“We want to celebrate the Class of 2020 because we believe that you are worth the wait for a great graduation ceremony,” Dr. Carstarphen said, referencing the hashtag #worththewait circulated by some students on social media.

APS sent an online survey to all seniors on April 17 to gather their input on commencement options. Students could vote for a virtual ceremony, a “drive-in movie” ceremony at a venue like the Starlight Theatre, or a postponed traditional ceremony. According to Dr. Carstarphen, 78 percent of seniors favored the postponed ceremony. 

Potential dates are July 20-24 and July 27-31. Venues would be outdoors to mitigate the potential spread of germs and might include Lakewood or Grady stadiums. Ceremonies would be early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid sweltering summer temperatures. 

Before the coronavirus outbreak forced school to close for the rest of the year, Grady seniors planned to walk across the stage at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion in maroon caps and gowns on May 20. Until the postponed ceremony, APS will hold a “virtual celebration concept” for each high school on May 18-21, according to Dr. Carstarphen. 

Assistant Principal Willie Vincent sent seniors an email requesting a quote and headshot to include in a “‘Senior Powerpoint.’” Student body president Taliyah Holloway said she’s disappointed with the virtual ceremony, and that it seems rushed. 

Holloway was excited for celebrations previously planned by the student government association, like a senior Spirit Week and Decision Day party with the college advisers. Those events and others, like prom, the spring musical, pep rally and fashion show, are canceled. For seniors like Holloway, graduation was supposed to be the culmination of a fun and memorable semester.

“You won’t ever get that feeling of being with your class one last time,” Holloway said. 

The administration contacted valedictorian Kavi Jakes and salutatorian Clarice Hill on April 20, asking them to prepare speeches for the virtual celebration by the end of the week. Both Jakes and Hill said they were surprised and subsequently scrambled to write their drafts. 

By Thursday, April 23, Hill said her speech was “just melancholy,” as she reflected on memories in light of the changed circumstances. She hopes everyone can focus on staying with each other, albeit virtually. 

“I hope that we can sort of remember the good times as they may be rather than dwell on the inconsistencies and the lost expectations,” Hill said. She added that she knows the virtual celebration is “the best [the administration] can do,” and no ceremony can completely change how seniors remember their years at Grady. 

Jakes said he’s going to miss traditional graduation’s “warm closing moment” and that he’s struggling to fit all his memories and emotions into his speech, which is limited to three minutes. Still, he hopes his classmates join virtually to “come together … one last time”

“I think if it was normal, I would probably have a happier speech,” Jakes said. “I’d like to think it would be funnier.”

Seniors are going to miss being together come late May, if they aren’t already. Even if commencement is possible in July, Holloway, Hill and Jakes grieve what could have been. 

“What I’ve been waiting for is being able to celebrate completing four years of high school with my friends and some of the people that I’ve grown up with since Inman and highlighting all of the academic things we’ve done and being a part of one of the smartest classes at Grady,” Holloway said.

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