Titans Class of 2020 goes virtual

Garfield Re-2 high school honors seniors with virtual graduation film

To honor the Class of 2020 Coal Ridge High School set up a stage in the gym and filmed seniors walking in their cap and gown for a virtual graduation which will be shown on social media and the school's website 1 p.m., Sunday, May 17.

As the days went by and the school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic continued for Coal Ridge Principal Jackie Davis, she knew there needed to be a backup plan in case seniors were not able to come back for an in-person graduation.

The school initially believed they could move graduation toward the end of summer possibly some time in July.

“We were still under the impression when we first started this, that we would hopefully be back. I also knew that if I waited until May 1, I wouldn’t have enough time,” Davis said. 

New Garfield School District Re-2 Superintendent Heather Grumley said she talked with both high school principals, telling them they should prepare for what their future celebrations should look like and begin to get input from their stakeholders — parents, students and staff.

“Each school has its own unique culture, climate and traditions. Sometimes that makes logistics difficult to navigate, but it is imperative that each is allowed to maintain their school identity,” Grumley said.

With a little help from Grumley, Davis did a little research and found a way to give the class of 2020 a moment they deserve.

“I was worried if we never got to walk now, and we didn’t get to walk in July, kids would never be able to put a gown on and walk the stage,” Davis said.

An early in the school year purchase of a full set of graduation gowns proved a good investment and helped Coal Ridge with their virtual graduation.

Most of the virtual graduation examples Davis had researched involved students shooting their own videos and submitting them. Davis wanted the 127 members of class of 2020 to have a little something more.

She made a call to the district’s maintenance department to ask if they would be able to set up a stage in the gym.

“The maintenance department at Re-2 has been phenomenal as well,” Davis said.

Developing a schedule adhering to the social distancing guidelines, Davis and the staff of CRHS allowed the students that could participate to come to the school in 15-minute intervals to don a cap and gown and walk the stage in the gymnasium.

With CRHS and district staff working nine- to 10-hour days, over a four-day period students were able to dress in a cap and gown in the auxiliary gym as two family members waited in the hall between the gyms.

“The first time the parents got to see their kiddo was on the backside of the gym, when they were already in cap and gown. It was just very emotional for a lot of parents when they would look up and see their kiddo,” Davis said. “We never had more than 10 in our gym at any given time, we really did a good job of adhering to social distancing.”

Davis said the virtual graduation would have been impossible if Coal Ridge had not decided earlier in the school year to purchase a set of gowns.

“Coal Ridge High School, in conjunction with the booster club, purchased an entire class set of graduation gowns that are housed at the school,” Davis said.

“We purchased the gowns so that it would alleviate cost on the parents’ part, coming towards this part of the year is extremely expensive for senior parents, with announcements, cap and gowns, parties and along with college entrance costs. I am extremely thankful that early on we chose to do that this year.”

Each graduate was filmed walking across a stage, accepting a diploma, and posing for photos with their parents to be compiled into a virtual graduation movie.  

The graduation will be presented at 1 p.m. May 17 — the original time and day the graduation was supposed to occur. 

Davis said they were able to add a few touches and details they have never been able to put in a regular graduation including comments from teachers and a compilation video. 

The movie will be live on the school’s website and social media so students can have watch parties. The whole ceremony is downloadable, and students may download as many times as they want for free.

Davis plans to download a copy to keep at the school in case someone doesn’t get a copy.

“This could not have been accomplished without the tremendous behind-the-scenes support that we had from maintenance, our own custodial staff and office staff,” Davis said.

Davis knows this does not replace a regular graduation by any means, but it is a very individualized thing for this group, and she hopes to have an in-person event in July, although she doesn’t know how many people will be able to be in a group by then.

“If at all possible we would love to have an outdoor graduation in July.”

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