Pomp and circumstance but with face masks and social distancing.
That was the idea for high school graduations across the state this spring.
Even with large events postponed and schools closed due to the coronavirus, many districts still wanted to give seniors a special sendoff. And the students wanted them, too, with many signing online petitions and pleading for some kind of in-person celebration after years of working toward a diploma.
So while observing Utah’s safety guidelines, they came up with some alternatives to a traditional commencement.
“It really pushed us to be more creative and get input,” said Ben Horsley, spokesman for Granite School District. “They were even better in some ways.”
Here are six different types of ceremonies held for the class of 2020.
A drive-through or “grad drag”
Most schools have held drive-through graduations, having a parade of cars drive the seniors around the parking lot on their special day.
At Alta High School last week, the cars were decked out with balloons and posters. The students wore their caps and gowns and stuck their heads out the window. And teachers cheered them on from the sidewalks where they wore masks.
Everyone maintained social distancing by staying in their own vehicles, but it still had somewhat of the feel of a typical procession, said Jeff Haney, spokesman for Canyons School District.
“It was a true community celebration,” he added.
Salt Lake City School District’s high schools will also do that this week, as well, with celebrations on Wednesday and Saturday. A special parade will go through Sugarhouse Park for Highland High. Jordan School District will hold its drive-throughs Thursday.
Though many of them looked similar, some schools and districts added their own flair.
For Granite District, students hopped out of their cars when they got to a makeshift stage outside. They could run across it and collect a diploma holder. And before they got back in their car again, the senior could pose for a picture.
Some vehicles in the drive-through had trailers attached and 40 or more family members joined in for the fun, Horsley added.
He said that a lot of families have told the district that they enjoyed being with their graduate for the day, instead of sitting far away from them in an auditorium like in a traditional ceremony. “It was a lot more personal,” Horsley noted.
In a survey, this was by far the most popular option among students there who wanted to have an actual, in-person event.
At Juab School District in central Utah, the drive-through was called “the grad drag.” The 180 graduates from the one high school there got in cars and lined up along Main Street in Nephi. On every light post, there was a banner and each senior was featured on one.
“It’s obviously not what anyone wanted,” said Superintendent Rick Robins. “But I thought for our seniors, it turned out to be a great night.”
It was so popular at Carbon High School in rural Price, too, that the drive lasted about four hours.
A virtual ceremony
Some school districts held their ceremonies entirely online.
Wasatch County School District had its graduates record messages for their classmates and then played them during the virtual event. The valedictorian gave a speech, too, and so did the principal, just like in an actual ceremony.
Some districts did these in addition to the drive-throughs because it felt more formal. Robins said he liked it because “everybody can go back and rewind or fast forward.” Jordan School District spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said they can keep the video “as a forever record” of this wacky year.
But for Leslie Jara Ortiz, who graduated from Granger High School in Granite District, the best part was that she was with her family — and the pressure was off.
Her parents pulled their TV into the front yard and they all watched together and waited for her photo to pop up on the screen. “They were cheering me on,” she said. “And it was so nice to be able to sit with them.”
A graduation now and later
Haney, with Canyons District, said graduates this year have missed out on a lot of traditions — graduations just being one of them.
“They didn’t get a lot of what the other seniors classes got,” he noted. “They didn’t get senior dances or senior sports night. They didn’t get to say goodbye to their teachers and classmates. The end of their school year was just vastly different.”
So the district plans to hold a “real” or traditional graduation later in the year, possibly in August, when the virus is less of a threat. That way, they don’t have to miss out on it forever.
“Let’s celebrate now and let’s celebrate later,” he said.
Similarly, Jordan School Districts hopes to have a yearbook signing for students when it’s safe.
A doorstep diploma delivery
The graduation celebration for Cache High School in Logan was probably one of the most unique across the state. Instead of having a ceremony, the eight faculty there loaded into a school bus — which they decorated into a “diploma-mobile” — and drove to each student’s house.
They personally delivered each diplomas.
The alternative school has about 40 seniors. And the staff split up the visits over two weeks, said spokesman Tim Smith.
“It was easy to do that on a personal level,” he said. “And the kids really liked it.”
A time capsule
To commemorate graduation and the strange times, the students at Herriman High School were all given a time capsule.
The box came with a few mementos to remember the school — and a roll of toilet paper to mark the coronavirus. And students were instructed to put more into it to represent the year they graduated.
The hope, Riesgraf said, is that when they open it 20 years from now the stresses of an unusual senior year will be far behind them.
A wall of photos and lots of signs
At Olympus High in Holladay, the PTA paid for large canvas photos of each of the 400 graduates to be hung on the fence outside the school.
They were 2 foot by 3 foot, and many students came by to sign their names or write a message for their friends — sort of like a large, outdoor yearbook.
At Alta High, they put up yard signs on campus for every student. Other schools, including East High, delivered those to students’ houses. Jordan High School put a wood panel with each graduating senior’s name next to the large “J” on its lawn.
“I think we’ve created some new traditions in our schools,” Horsley said, “despite everything.”