Graduation 2020: Tiny Celebrations and Major Hope
All over the world, people are figuring out new ways to celebrate old traditions. Holding onto hope and having meaningful celebrations in the midst of adversity can be very encouraging, but most of all, it feels like an utterly human thing to do. We caught up with a staffer and graduate from the Notre Dame School, two grads from Austin and NYC, and a high school principal to tell us about what graduation looks like in 2020. These stories are a breath of fresh air and remind us of the good things still unfolding in the world.
Meredith Pace, Notre Dame School in Dallas, Texas
Meredith is the Transition & Employment Specialist for Notre Dame, a school that focuses on educating students who have developmental disabilities and this year there are 15 graduates.
How does Notre Dame plan on celebrating graduates?
Our principal and assistant principal drove to each and every one of their homes (most of which are in Dallas, but we have some in Anna, Watauga, and Forney, so it was quite a hike) and delivered them lawn signs and their caps and gowns. We are having a drive through celebration at Notre Dame on 5/28, which is the day that graduation was originally supposed to be. Students will not be getting out of their cars, but are encouraged to wear their caps and gowns in the cars and will be given gifts and cheers from their teachers, balloons, and cookies!
I [also] lead a once a week “graduate class” where I hang out with all of the graduates on zoom and just chat about the uncertainties, anxiety, and feelings this pandemic has brought to us, as well as doing fun activities to boost everyone’s morale!
Earlier with one of my students, Will, said that he is most excited about graduating, because he has been accepted to the Empower program at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is hoping to still be able to move there in the fall and begin his college career. This is super exciting, as this doesn’t happen very frequently for our students. He says he is excited to graduate because he thinks he will become more responsible and be happy to be an adult.
Pictured are Meredith and Will at a Notre Dame event.
Alexis Peters, graduating with a BA in English with a minor in History from the University of Texas in Austin
How are you celebrating graduation?
I’m planning to watch our university-wide ceremony in the evening. Students were able to submit a personalized message along with a photo for the ceremony. My best friend is planning on coming over to pop some champagne and celebrate the past four years with me. It should be quite enjoyable, all things considered. My family will also be watching the ceremony back at their homes, which is so nice.
What are your feelings about this next stage of life?
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the future, honestly. We live in a very different world currently and the future for a lot of people is filled with uncertainty. No one could have predicted the events of these past few months, and sure graduating right now is definitely not the most ideal situation, but I like to keep an optimistic attitude that things will work themselves out.
During times of hardship and uncertainty, I always try to find a glimmer of positivity in the little things — I am hopeful and proud to be a graduate from The University of Texas at Austin.
Marina Barham, graduating with a BA in Media, Culture, and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City
How did you celebrate graduation?
My dear friend Cameron and my boyfriend Justin came over! I borrowed a cap and gown from another grad [who lives] in Brooklyn, and we sat in front of the TV and chatted about old times and sipped mimosas as our guest speaker spoke. When my name flashed on the screen, we cheered and shook hands and that was it haha. Later we played Catan and then we sat on the roof and reminisced some more. King’s did a big ol’ Zoom call, but it was nicely done.
What are your feelings about this next stage of life?
I am terrified and excited! It doesn't really feel like anything has changed yet, but I think these next several years are going to be unforgettable!
Virdie Montgomery, Principal of Wylie High School in Texas
Virdie is a good principal. His empathy allows him to relate to the ups and downs of his students’ lives at Wylie High School and that empathy is what led him to respond with kindness to disrupted plans.
In early March, the school was closed and classrooms were traded for online learning. Virdie couldn’t shake the sadness he felt for Wylie’s senior class and all of the students who wouldn’t be able to take part in some of the most memorable traditions of high school. “It hit particularly hard….they were missing prom, senior walk, elementary walks, pictures galore and possibly graduation.” So, he did what Virdie would do, banded together his staff and tried to make the best of a crummy situation.
“Our superintendent, Dr. David Vinson and our incredible school board did some remarkable things. They furnished yard signs for each senior and had the transportation department deliver them and place them in each yard. We had a senior student who tweeted: ‘We may be the Class of 2020 and the class with vision…but we did not see this coming.’ We made that into a t-shirt and gave [one to each] senior. They picked it up on Cap and Gown Delivery Day, [when we had] a curbside delivery of caps and gowns to the seniors. It was moving and emotional. It just hit me hard that this could be the last time I would see them before they graduated and if that were to even happen.”
It was at this moment that Virdie had the idea to personally visit every one of the graduating students from Wylie High School. He donned a mask that nodded to their school mascot, a pirate, and headed out with 17 pages of Google addresses.
“[Honestly,] it was more for me than them. They were handling it just fine. I [just] wanted to make sure they knew they were cared about. I delivered a lame joke over 600 times and tracked down over 600 addresses. It took twelve days and 79 hours over 800 plus miles just driving up one street and down another. It was a blessing to see them and to feel the warmth we have as a Pirate family.”
It’s nice to know that humans, like Virdie, are out there in the world. Going out of one’s way, whether that’s driving 800 miles or playing Catan, to make someone feel cared for and honored, is an essential good that we should all try to emulate. These graduation stories remind us that life is still worth celebrating. Wherever there are tiny parties there is also big hope.