For many students across California, high school came to a close last week in a way that no one ever expected. With campuses empty due to the coronavirus pandemic and students unable to come within 6 feet of each other, the class of 2020 had to reinvent their schools' time-honored traditions.
In Menlo Park, Atherton and Woodside, seniors at Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools celebrated graduation at a distance. Grad night parties and farewell hugs were replaced by car parades and tearful Zoom calls. Graduation ceremonies came by livestreamed speeches. Diplomas were handed out, one-by-one — but only from a safe distance.
At Woodside High, which graduated 426 seniors through a livestream on June 5, senior Christopher Badger said he felt a mix of emotions about the socially distanced graduation. "I think it was impossible for me to not be disappointed, just given the hype that all of us had since, well, forever," he said. "That being said, I thought that Woodside did their best given the situation, and while it may have been slightly underwhelming, it was sweet."
Badger, who will attend Berklee College of Music in the fall, said that one emotional highlight for him was Woodside High School's car parade — a socially distanced substitute for a graduation ceremony in which students and their families drove slowly through campus and waved to cheering teachers.
Menlo-Atherton High School held its 69th annual commencement last week, graduating 520 students on June 4 through a livestreamed ceremony. Other celebrations through the week included a car parade and livestreamed awards night. For both livestreamed events, the school set up a stage in its performing arts center and shared the video through the online platform StageClip.
Menlo-Atherton High School principal Simone Rick-Kennel said that the car parade was a highlight for their students. "It actually felt like the kids were even more excited — probably because of being sheltered in place," she said.
As Menlo-Atherton seniors drove through the parade, they could tune into the high school's radio station, 89.1 KCEA, where student-selected music and shoutouts from teachers played.
M-A senior Kylie Wong said that even without a traditional graduation ceremony, she has found other ways to find a sense of closure as high school ends. One memory that stands out for her was baking banana bread for her teachers shortly before the school closed in mid-March. "Obviously, it's nothing close to giving your friends and peers hugs and seeing them one last time," she said. "But it's as close as we can get."
Wong, who will attend the University of Oregon in the fall, said that the shelter-in-place has also caused her to miss out on other end-of-high-school traditions, such as prom — she served on the prom committee. But she said that she felt her disappointments seem small compared to problems going on in the world, such as COVID-19.
"It's disappointing, but at the same time there's so much going on in the world right now, that I disregard all the mini things that I've felt didn't work out," she said. "Right now, things are being put into perspective. After this pandemic ends, there are so many things that need to be fixed. My graduating class, I do have faith that we can influence positive change."