AISD to stage virtual graduation ceremony on June 16; Mac to celebrate Class of 2020 with May 28 parade

Some seniors feel alternate commencement activities will give a sense of closure; others fear that that's unlikely

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Elaine Bohls-Graham

Jordan Bibby was among the seniors who picked up a yard sign during the curbside pickup on Friday. Bibby said she hopes the virtual graduation ceremony gives her a sense of closure. “I feel like these past two months have blurred into one super long day with no real feeling of completion or moving toward a huge goal,” Bibby said. “It feels like nothing is real right now since I can’t see, feel, or experience [graduating], so maybe this will be the thing that makes graduation feel like a reality.”  Photo by Elaine Bohls-Graham.

Julia Kay Smith, staff reporter

At the end of May, seniors all over Austin would usually find themselves crossing the stage at the Frank Erwin Center in order to receive their diplomas. Seniors would most likely shake the hand of their principal, listen to their classmates give speeches, as well as meet all together in person one last time.

Seniors Ivy Ortiz and Apollonia Ferrante were not going to be denied their hard-earned right to a free Class of 2020 Grad dozen doughnuts from Krispy Kreme today. The pandemic can throw a wrench into many beloved senior traditions, but it may not take away a sweet and richly deserved reward. Ferrante said that they arrived at the Krispy Kreme off 183 at about 12:30 p.m. and had to wait 40 minutes in the line outside the store before securing their tasty tribute from the popular doughnut chain. Photo courtesy of Ferrante.

This year, however, the class of 2020 will be celebrating virtually. Austin ISD has partnered with Herff Jones in order to produce the online event, which will span over two days. McCallum’s ceremony will be held on June 16 at noon.

Alongside Herff Jones, the graduations will also be produced by Marching Order, a graduation ceremony production company, and Stage Clip productions, a company that allows mass participation events to be held virtually.  The ceremony will virtually gather students and their families, from the safety of their own homes, in order to celebrate commencement.

Personalized slides of each student, serving as their walk across the stage, will appear on the screen with a correctly pronounced name. After the graduation ceremony is over, seniors will have the opportunity to download the ceremony and share it with friends and family via social media outlets. Each high school has a campus contact from the joint production companies that will soon be reaching out to seniors and their families.

McCallum’s administration has also chosen to celebrate their seniors via a car parade on May 28. All students will meet in the band lot at 12:45 p.m. and will all be required to stay in their cars. Teachers and faculty members will be lined up along Sunshine Drive in order to cheer on the graduation class. 

For me, the senior parade is more symbolic and emotional in terms of leaving high school.”

— Catie Mendevil

The idea of a virtual graduation has drawn mixed feelings from the class of 2020. Many students are excited to spend time with their families as well as see their classmates one last time, whereas others would rather wait until it is possible to observe the traditional in-person graduation ceremony.

“I hope that [the virtual graduation] will serve as a time for families, friends and teachers of the class of 2020 to recognize and appreciate the graduates because, at least for me, the senior parade is more symbolic and emotional in terms of leaving high school,” senior Catie Mendevil said. “I am looking forward to my family being able to watch me virtually graduate, but I’m most looking forward to getting to be on campus with my classmates.”

For many seniors, the past few months have been stress-inducing and confusing, so for senior Jordan Bibby, the virtual ceremony will hopefully give her a sense of closure.

In an effort to celebrate the Class of 2020 in troubled times, McCallum will actually have three graduation events: a parade, a virtual graduation and a tentatively scheduled in-person graduation. Photo by Josh Dunleavy. (Josh Dunleavy)

“I feel like these past two months have blurred into one super long day with no real feeling of completion or moving toward a huge goal,” Bibby said. “It feels like nothing is real right now since I can’t see, feel or experience [graduating], so maybe this will be the thing that makes graduation feel like a reality.” 

 Even though the annual graduation ceremony at the Frank Erwin Center on UT campus  has been indefinitely postponed, an in-person graduation is being planned for Aug. 13 at 1 p.m. for McCallum.

I don’t think students will get a sense of closure from the modified ceremony because we won’t get to give our friends hugs, take photos, say goodbye in person, and feel like we got to see everyone physically.”

— Weatherly Giblin

Senior Paulo Zambarano has stayed optimistic through the cancellation of school that there will still be a chance to reconnect with his classmates.

“I would love to be able to say a proper goodbye to all the people who have made such an impact on my life for the past four years,” Zambarano said. “Only time will tell what ends up happening, but until then I’m keeping my head up.”

Even though the possibility of an in-person graduation is still up in the air, senior Weatherly Giblin feels that the physical reunification of the class is the only thing that will give students a real sense of closure.

“It’s great that the school is working their hardest to give us some form of a celebration, but it’s sad because it’s not the traditional graduation that I know a lot of us have been looking forward to since freshman year,” Giblin said. “I don’t think students will get a sense of closure from the modified ceremony because we won’t get to give our friends hugs, take photos, say goodbye in person and feel like we got to see everyone physically.”

Fellow senior Amelia Paul agrees that a virtual ceremony is not the same as a traditional one and can’t be, but she holds out hope that it enables the emotional rite of passage she and her peers want and need. 

“I hope that I still feel like I have accomplished something and feel proud of it,” Paul said. “Obviously it’s not the same thing as walking across the stage in front of your peers, getting your diploma, and shaking everyone’s hand, but I hope that feeling is still there.” 

Senior Lila Guaragna was not going to let a little rain or even a lot of rain stop her and her mom Ashley from picking up her cap and gown last Friday on campus. “I think the faculty is doing a great job,” Guaragna said. “Ms.Hosack is such an awesome presence on campus, and all of the info she’s been giving parents and students is really appreciated. I think teachers are doing a great job too because of how many Zoom meetings they are offering or available for.” Photo by Dave Winter. (Dave Winter)