Florida High School Seniors to Graduate Virtually AND Attend In-Person Ceremonies After Stay-at Home Orders Expire

Students in the Little Miami High School Class of 2019 on Sunday, May 19, 2019. Photo: www.littlemiamischools.com/

High school graduation is more than an end-of-the-year tradition in American high schools. It’s a right of passage in a way. To be able to go to a large venue in a cap and gown to celebrate four years of hard work with family and friends is something Florida high schoolers want to experience like many other students around the country. 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is preventing these ceremonies from taking place. This year, high school graduation will be virtual for most public high schools.

North Florida

The State Board of Education makes considerations for seniors to graduate. Photo and Caption: www.news4jax.com

The St. Johns County school district announced it was canceling traditional high school graduations on Thursday, April 2. Officials say the graduations were supposed to be held in the University of North Florida Arena, but the venue is no longer available because of COVID-19 concerns. The decision was upsetting to many of the high school seniors, causing them to create a petition online through Change.org. In the petition, the students are suggesting postponing graduation at a later date instead of having a virtual graduation.

The district said it will continue to monitor the novel coronavirus before determining what options may be available and reasonable for students and families.

Officials with Clay County Public Schools say they are not canceling graduation. 

In Indian River County, the school district said it would postpone ceremonies, with individual schools announcing new dates in June.

Duval County schools’ graduation ceremonies were supposed to take place throughout May for the district’s high schools. They are currently in danger of also going virtual for 2020. The plans for virtual graduation ceremonies are still unknown or yet to be announced for Duval County schools.

Central Florida

Pinellas County Schools, unlike other districts, announced over the weekend of April 17 that its 17 high schools would hold virtual graduations. Then more than 1,800 students responded with petitions arguing that the school district should consider other options, like moving the events to a later date.

Lakewood High graduates enter Tropicana Field during the school’s 2018 commencement. Pinellas County school officials initially announced that all graduations would be virtual in 2020 because of the coronavirus. But after a negative reaction from students, the district is discussing the possibility of using the stadium if conditions allow. Photo and Caption: www.tampabay.com/ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2018)

Brevard County Public Schools on Friday, April 17 announced back-up plans for high school graduation ceremonies if COVID-19 restrictions are not lifted by the end of May. Currently, schools are still planning to hold regular graduation ceremonies late next month, although school officials said in a news release they were “not optimistic” the state would lift orders on social distancing and large gatherings in time.

If closings are extended through May, Brevard County high schools will plan to hold in-person commencement the week of June 22, officials said. A further fall-back date the week of July 20 is planned in case restrictions continue through June.

St. Lucie County high school graduations for the Class of 2020 will be held virtually because of the novel coronavirus. If it’s safe to do so, the district also will hold in-person graduation ceremonies at the end of June, district spokeswoman Lydia Martin said. Schools are closed through at least May 1. The district’s eight virtual commencement ceremonies will be held May 26-28 and will be broadcast on the school district’s web channel and streamed on YouTube. 

The pre-recorded, streamed ceremonies will include valedictorian and salutatorian speeches, “digital slides” to honor individual graduates when their names are called and a “turn your tassel moment,” since most seniors already have purchased their caps and gowns, district officials said. 

South Florida

Palm Beach County high school graduation will also be virtual. The graduation show will go on in Palm Beach County virtually under the direction of the school district’s communications team and complete with speeches from the valedictorian, salutatorian and principals.

The broadcast dates run from May 26 through June 5. Roughly 14,500 students are expected to graduate this year. For more information, please visit the Palm Beach County School District website.

Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie announced Wednesday, April 22 that high school graduation for seniors will be a virtual experience for 2020 as well. The public high school graduations will take place between June 15 and June 28 and are planned to include speeches and a roll call of graduates. Each of them will be broadcast live on BECON-TV and streamed also. As of yet, the date for each school’s graduation will be announced May 1, the school district said.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie announced that high schools will be holding virtual graduations in 2020. Photo and Caption: WPLG/www.Local10.com

Miami-Dade County’s Public Schools (MDCPS) will make graduation this year a reality, virtually and in-person, for their students amid the coronavirus lockdowns.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho on Tuesday, April 21 announced plans for Miami-Dade County Public Schools to make graduation this year available to students but through a virtual simulation in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Since there are still stay-at-home orders in place, the possibility of in-person graduation is unlikely for this school year. But many school district staff and teachers felt bad about the fact that students wouldn’t be able to celebrate the end of the school year and their hard work for the past four years.

Students made a special request to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. The district agreed that a milestone such as high school graduation should not go without being done, and so school district officials are taking additional steps to make sure this event actually happens, global pandemic or no global pandemic.

Miami Carol City High School students walk the stage during the school’s 54th commencement ceremony on Friday, May 31, 2019. Photo and Caption: www.miamitimesonline.com

The first graduation ceremony will take place as a streaming graduation ceremony held this summer right after the school year. Superintendent Carvalho said the students will watch from home, but the virtual event’s format will be nearly identical to the way traditional ceremonies unfold, down to students’ names being called. 

District officials said the second ceremony will be in person once stay-at-home orders have expired and once it is thought safe to do so by the City’s government officials. The second ceremony will look just like what every high school graduate has received in the past, according to district officials.

Carvalho said these second ceremonies could be later in the summer or even in the fall or winter, depending on when restrictions are lifted. The students of the graduating class of 2020 said they will gladly come back, even months later, to have a ceremony so they can see their classmates face to face. It will surely be a joyous moment for the students to see each other once again after a dangerous pandemic such as coronavirus has affected everyday life here in the U.S.

MDCPS superintendent Alberto Carvalho speaks to the press on Tuesday, April 21, 2020 about plans to make graduation ceremonies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools virtual for the 2020 school year. Photo: /www.americateve.com/

Rodney Michel, a senior at Coral Gables Senior High School, says he is happy with the arrangement to do graduation this way. “It’s a good compromise having both virtual and a physical one,” Michel told Miami’s WSVN Channel 7 News via a televised interview.

“You’ve earned it, #classof2020. Everyone shall be recognized in a very personalized way, with cap and gown and all the pomp and circumstance. @MDCPS seniors to graduate virtually, attend in-person ceremonies after lifting of #covid crisis. #2020graduation” tweeted Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho on April 21.

Virtual graduation ceremonies will be ongoing from May 26 to June 3 for MDCPS, according to www.americateve.com.