It's unclear when and where many 2020 high school graduation ceremonies will take place, considering these uncertain times involving the coronavirus.
These kids were born during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and are graduating amid a global pandemic. As the class of COVID-19, one thing is certain: These kids put history in the books.
With spring sports, concerts, plays, clubs, prom, senior trips, banquets, and award ceremonies abruptly yanked off their roster, our seniors are feeling heartbroken and cheated. There will be no last day of school to say final goodbyes or take that last walk down the hall as a senior. No running through a tunnel of cheering kids at their former elementary schools. No opportunities for senior skip days to the beach or senior pranks to talk of at their 20-year reunion.
Not only were the experiences of their final months of grade school shattered, but the quarantine has also taken away any chance to gather in groups to hang out and support each other, which is vital in the existence of a teen.
Many virtual graduation commencements and alternatives are in the works around the country. In Hanover, Pennsylvania, graduation will take place at a drive-in theater where families remain in their cars. The valedictorian and salutatorian will give prerecorded messages on the big screen along with a prerecorded ceremony and slide show of all the graduates. Other districts are considering postponing ceremonies until lockdowns are lifted.
Despite so much being canceled or suspended, there are ways to honor our seniors, lift their spirits, and build anticipation while unique and memorable graduation alternatives are in the works.
Display their sport or activity on your front door.
Forgo the spring wreath and hang sporting equipment such as jerseys, cleats, baseball gloves, lacrosse sticks, and tennis rackets on your door. Get creative displaying drumsticks, a flute, a play costume, or color guard or school flags. Make a statement in your neighborhood and wrap the door in your graduate's senior picture.
Senior spotlight on social media.
Interview your graduate and post the questions and answers—or video—on social media, along with a collage of pictures. Who were their most influential teachers or coaches? Have them recall a memorable moment from elementary, middle and high school. What was the most valuable lesson they learned? Ask questions pertaining to their clubs, sports and out-of-school interests. What was their most embarrassing moment in school? What are their college plans and career plans, and do they see themselves staying local or moving out of state—or out of the country—in their future?
Once social distancing restrictions are lifted and restaurants reopen, give these kids a prom. Do it big with formal wear, corsages, boutonnieres and pictures as it would have been. Support a local restaurant by reserving a large section or side room—many restaurants do this for free. Possibly host prom in a garage or barn, or under an outdoor tent with hanging lights and pounding music. Either way, these kids deserve the traditional formalities that commemorate high school.
Print pictures from K-12 and make yard signs.
This can be as simple as gluing 8x10 pictures on cardstock and hot gluing them to a wooden stake. Line your driveway with them or place the signs across the front of your yard, so people can see them as they drive by.
Surprise your senior with a photo book.
Create a photo book highlighting the first and last day of school for each grade. Maybe you have a picture of your child with their teachers or a few pictures of elementary school Halloween or Christmas parties. Field day, wacky hair day and "dressed to look 100 years old on the 100th day of school" pictures are all great ones to include.
Don't forget to incorporate an awkward middle school picture. I'm sure we can all dig through the archives and find one before, during and after braces, or the flattering stages of growing out their elementary school haircut into the shaggy middle school mess. Possibly you've captured the monstrous middle school makeup mishap that didn't quite turn out like the promising YouTube tutorial. The head-to-toes sequins outfit from Justice. Surely, we have photos that will have us on the floor laughing.
You could even put together an album consisting of old ticket stubs, artwork, awards and other memorabilia. Jot down their favorite foods, classes, friends, and interests from year to year. What was their favorite song in third grade? Were they obsessed with Nutella sandwiches in fifth grade and green smoothies in 11th? Did they wear the same Nike sweatshirt every day in sixth grade and cry when leggings were banned in 10th? Include anything that can be reminisced about in the future ... Such as a pandemic.
Car parades are all the rage for birthdays these days, so why not arrange a car parade for your senior on what would have been their last day of school? Invite family and friends to decorate their cars, make signs, ring cowbells, blast their fight song, and honk through the neighborhood. It's gloriously cheesy and unforgettable.
T-shirts, pillows, blankets and water bottles are popping up all over the internet for the graduating class of 2020—the zeros switched out for toilet paper, quotes that refer to being born in tragedy and graduating in a pandemic, and more. Personalize these memorable keepsakes to share with future generations.
Keep the plan for a graduation open house or party.
Postpone instead of canceling, if possible. The theme may change to a bon voyage party, but our seniors deserve to be celebrated for their accomplishments and upcoming future before sending them off to college, the military or the workforce.
Get ready world: Here comes a determined, strong and resilient class of young adults!
Jamie Berris resides in Rockford, Michigan, with her husband and four children and is the author of two women's fiction novels. When not writing or reading, she enjoys running, traveling, camping, boating, and beaching it on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Find Jamie here.
Photo courtesy of Jamie Berris.