As we all know, COVID-19 has changed our world and will definitely be impacting how you plan for graduation and end of year ceremonies this year. In our weekly Possip parent pulse checks, parents are asking about how to celebrate our seniors and other “end of year” milestones that students are really looking forward to.
Possip also surveyed parents all around the country about the needs they have during school closures. We found that what parents worry about the most is their child missing the social connection piece of schooling.
Being able to celebrate students with the school community this year is really at top of mind for parents.
But the big question is, how do we celebrate our students and close out the year when we don’t have the ability to physically be in that school community?
Every celebration must have five components. Keep CARES in mind when planning creative milestone celebrations so that you have a framework to begin thinking about putting your event together. Here’s what it stands for:
- Community: One of the best times to build relationships with families and students is during a time of celebration. The celebration should find a way for people to connect with their community and feel a sense of “together”-ness.
- Acknowledgment- When we receive public praise and support, there’s actually positive chemistry that’s happening in our brains. Our “feel good” endorphins are increased and “negative” cortisol levels are significantly lowered. This is especially important during this time of crisis for students when they’re struggling with anxiety and uncertainty. Focus on finding ways to acknowledge students during your celebration to make this a really memorable and positive event.
- Reflection- Participating in celebrations connects students to the bigger significance of our lives and their purpose. It provides a sense of appreciation for where we’ve been and where we want to go. Allow time for reflection for students and families to make it a purposeful time.
- Excitement- This is pretty self-explanatory, but celebrations add excitement and fun. This is the perfect opportunity to partake in the joys of life during a difficult time.
- Special Memories- Our brain remembres memories that carry significant emotions to them. When we are celebrating, we are basically putting a marker in our brain for that positive emotional experience. How will you make this memorable for students? Also, how will you create tangible pictures/media/keepsakes to re-live these experiences in the future?
As we go through this, if you’re planning a Kindergarten graduation or a Senior graduation, keep these 5 components in mind and adapt these ideas to fit your needs!
Graduation Spirit Celebration Ideas:
Starting out with ways to celebrate the graduating class without a ceremony or before a ceremony takes place. Of course, these are things that don’t have to be reserved for seniors only. We know Kindergarten, 5th-grade, and 8th-grade graduations are still big events and this could work for those events, also.
Have a Graduation Cap Contest
You can allow students to order their cap and gowns, and encourage them to decorate them, post them on social media or website, and have a contest on how many “likes” they get. This idea will also allow students to still have a cap and gown to take “graduation” photos at home or another desired location even if your school isn’t doing a big ceremony right away.
Create a Graduating Class Website:
Gather Senior Photos and Bios by asking students to submit them along with some fun facts. These photos and bios can be posted on a website for the senior class. You can think of it as kind of a living, breathing yearbook! There are also some website platforms where students and families post celebratory messages or comments for seniors, which would be a fun way to virtually communicate with the community.
Graduate Yard Signs:
Some schools have created and posted yard signs in the community for each senior. This could be in a public area for people to walk or drive by, or they could be printed and given to families to put in front of their homes.
Social Media Campaign:
This is a great way to build community during a time of isolation. The school could have a “Senior Day” or “Senior Week” where a whole day or week is devoted to posting photos of the Senior class. Also, having an Instagram “hashtag” during that social media campaign can help students feel connected and celebrated and share other special memories they have from that time.
Senior Care Packages:
Schools could partner with local businesses that need extra business to create “senior care packages” for graduation day. I’ve seen principals and school leaders drop this off and take socially distant photos with students. This could be school swag, maybe items for their dorm room, or sweet treats for the seniors.
Make it Student-Led:
See what students want to do to celebrate. Students could design and perform a class dance that is recorded and sent out to the school body, students could vote on a class song and someone can sing that, someone can write a poem or spoken word and record it about the graduating class, just to name a few ideas. These student-led experiences could be spread across a graduation week and allow students to take ownership of how they’re celebrated! I actually saw two senior boys at a local high school made flower bouquets for every senior girl and delivered them to their houses to make them all feel special since prom was canceled. Students are creative and want to be involved, so see what ideas they have!
Graduation Ceremony Ideas
Depending on the current status of COVID-19 social distancing regulations during your ceremony date, you may have to get creative. While it won’t have the same impact as in-person graduation, holding a ceremony during this time can be done in many different ways. We will talk through three of these ways to start sparking some ideas.
1. Car or Walking Parade:
Students can decorate their cars, create a carline, and drive a specific route. Community members can socially distance on the parade route and cheer on students as they pass. There could be a location where each car stops, and the principal can pose with the car and give the student their diploma. If possible, this could also be done with the graduates using a walking parade. If the school is in a neighborhood or in a place where you can have the roads closed, consider having the seniors do a processional down a major street, in caps and gowns, where families can stay on the sidewalks to cheer seniors on. The families can be assigned a location to stand in front of to make sure of social distancing.
2. Drive-Thru Ceremony:
Schools can open up a carline that ends at a stage where students can get out and get their diploma from school staff. Obviously the size of the class and social distancing regulations could be constraints, but it’s still a possible option.
3. A Virtual Event:
First, ask speakers to record and send all of the necessary components of the ceremony in advance. You can mash those videos together ahead of time and play that during the virtual event. Next, create a PowerPoint slide deck or other desired method with a photo of each student, their accolades, and a celebratory note from families. The principal can go through each candidate individually to make it special for each student and family. Finally, spread the news of the event and ensure all parents are able to broadcast it. Some schools have partnered with local TV networks to air it on a local channel.
For this Virtual Event, there are some big events being planned already. Oprah, Lebron James, and President Obama are hosting events, so if you want to tag onto an existing virtual event, consider doing that.
However, we do want to encourage schools that if they do a virtual event, really focus on making it special for each student and family. The slideshow aspect or other method to celebrate each student individually during the ceremony is going to be really important to make this even a special memory.
Other “End-Of-Year” Celebration Ideas
Other students who are not seniors are still struggling without saying goodbye to their teachers and classmates. To get some closure for students, a few ideas include:
Ask students about their favorite memories and events during the year and create a “memory book” for students or another creative way to compile answers to give back to students as a ‘keepsake’ for the year.
End of Year Video:
Get videos from students, teachers, parents, and leaders and compile an end-of-year video for the school. (A fun example I’ve seen is having everyone dance to the same song in their individual video and create an end of year “music video” to close out the year.)
Postpone Until Later Date:
Although we don’t know what the future will bring, there could be a postponed event once social distancing guidelines decrease. Remember that even if you are postponing and event, celebrating now somehow is still important. Senior weeks on social media like I mentioned earlier or even an award ceremony before the end of the year are pretty low lift to do now if you’re planning to postpone the actual graduation ceremony until later.
I want to end on the idea of “leaning into grief” during this time. Even though we are trying to find creative solutions, it just isn’t the same as the event students looked forward to all year. As educators and parents, we can anticipate students’ grief for their loss of a big milestone celebration.
We need to acknowledge those feelings are expected and okay.
But all you can do is your best during this difficult time to try to create as much normalcy and celebration as possible. Be gracious to yourself and just do the best you can given this difficult situation.
Also remember, that along with the grief can also come excitement of doing things in different ways. End-of-year celebrations only highlight a few students who get a lot of time and attention with awards or speeches. The majority of other students only walk across the stage. This is a time where we can really make each graduate or student feel more special.
Remember that we do graduations and celebrations in this way because it’s how they’ve always been done. Make this new way to celebrate an opportunity to reflect on the year and make it special for all students!
If you want to brainstorm more about these events, email firstname.lastname@example.org!