The COVID-19 virus forced local high schools to find a completely different format for graduation.
For many, the results have been positive: a more informal, personal experience for graduating seniors.
Is this the new normal? Will graduation ceremonies be similar next spring?
That may depend on the status of the virus in 2021. Regardless, administrators and faculty have put hours and hours of work into making graduation a special time for their seniors this year.
“When school got canceled, it hurt,” Lone Peak Principal Scott Sumner said. “It hurts your heart. To be able to come back together and recognize their achievements, to have the teachers who worked so hard with them for three years celebrate with them with one last moment, it means the world. It’s more special than other graduations because we had lost so much along the way.”
Sumner said the faculty and administration at Lone Peak worked together and wanted to do even more.
“I think this has made graduation a better focus on the individual student,” he said. “This has been the perfect setup to have the individual focus and yet create the opportunity for the community to recognize what everyone has accomplished this year.”
As for next year’s graduation, Sumner said he didn’t know what it would look like.
“We have had a lot of positive feedback,” he added. “I could see us doing a mixture of all of it, finding the good in all the things we’ve done. Maybe we could make a hybrid model with all the great parts we’ve been able to do.”
Lone Peak had 700 seniors who registered for the graduation walk, which took place during three days this week outside the front of the school facing one of the busiest roads in Highland in North County Boulevard. A large stage had been set up for seniors to make their final appearance at the school and receive recognition from faculty and staff.
“This has definitely been the top experience for this year,” Lone Peak graduate Katelyn Manning said. “It was way different, but this was super fun and cute to see how much the teachers care. It was a good time. The pandemic made it hard to stay motivated and do my work, but in the end, it’ll all pass by, you’ll see all your friends and it will be OK.”
Manning said she is planning on attending BYU and will study something in the math, science or medical field.
“I’ve learned to always be positive and not let things get you down,” she said. “I had a blast even though we were staying home doing school. I don’t like to pick favorites but all three years my math teacher was Mrs. Lines. Shout out to Mrs. Lines.”
Allison Steinert, who is planning on attending Dixie State in the fall, said she didn’t mind the break from school at all.
“I liked being home,” she said. “It was nice to have some free time. I went on hikes and hung out with my family. This graduation has been great. It was a unique experience because it was different than everyone else’s. No one has the same story.”
Just a few miles down the road, American Fork High School and its 702 seniors also held graduation over a three-day period this week. At AF, graduates came through the auditorium with their families to receive their diplomas.
“Graduation was definitely a little bit odd, for sure,” senior Alexis Burns said. “I think it was actually perfect for the time being because it was super personalized. Going up on stage with my family so close, I got to see their faces. I think it was perfect for this year and the 2020 graduates.”
Burns, who wants to attend Dixie State in the fall, said she dreams of going to nursing school. Right now she works at a certified nursing assistant and has seen the effects of COVID-19 up close.
“It’s super hard going into work and seeing how those that are quarantined have their social lives ripped apart,” Burns said. “That’s tough but I try to talk to them and make friends with them so they don’t feel completely alone at this time.”
The biggest lessons Burns learned in high school?
“To stop procrastinating my homework and actually do it on time,” she said. “I loved the social aspect of high school. It really gets you out there and talking to people. You never know what others are going through so it puts it all in perspective.”
Senior Anthony Carnesecca said while his graduation experience was very different than he was expecting, he was glad there was something so carefully planned.
“You always expect to be able to walk with all of your friends,” he said. “Being able to do something is better than nothing.”
Since coronavirus restrictions make a large senior party out of the question, Carnesecca — who will serve a church mission to Brazil in July — said he would celebrate with his family.
“We’re going to get some Tsunami takeout (it’s a restaurant and sushi bar) and see what happens,” he said.