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Schools prepare for alternative graduation ceremonies while awaiting state, local guidance
Pomp despite circumstances

Schools prepare for alternative graduation ceremonies while awaiting state, local guidance

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This is supposed to be the year Connally High School senior Marco Pevia walks across the graduation stage instead of playing the trombone during the ceremony, like he has for the past three years.

This is supposed to be the year he does not only watch brothers, cousins and friends in caps and gowns receive their diplomas in front of hundreds. This is supposed to be the year it is his turn.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on everything from toilet paper supplies to mass gatherings, it is possible Pevia, 18, and his fellow seniors will not get to walk across a graduation stage at all this spring.

Texas schools have been closed since March 16, when Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all public and private schools closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. He extended that order April 17 to shut down schools for the remainder of the school year.

Waco area school districts are in a holding pattern when it comes to planning graduation ceremonies. The Texas education commissioner has advised school districts not to make any decisions about in-person graduation ceremonies until after May 4, when Abbott’s stay-at-home order expires.

The Waco Independent School District still has its two ceremonies, one for each high school, scheduled for May 30 at Waco ISD stadium, while simultaneously making alternative plans in case social distancing guidelines and bans on mass gatherings are still in effect.

Similarly, the Midway Independent School District’s graduation is still schedule for May 23 at Baylor University’s Ferrell Center, but the district is discussing different ways to hold a graduation ceremony.

COVID graduation

Connally High School senior Marco Pevia dons his graduation gown before a photo shoot with his family at the Waco Suspension Bridge.

Pevia’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 16 at the Extraco Events Center, a milestone he has been aiming for all school year. After high school, he plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, but first he wants to wear a cap and gown and walk across a stage.

“The feelings come in waves,” he said. “I’ve laughed about it. I’ve cried about it. I’ve yelled about it.”

Some adults have pointed out to Pevia why a graduation ceremony would not be possible, as if he did not understand the gravity of the situation, he said. But he believes he and his fellow seniors have a right to mourn the possibility that they might not experience that rite of passage.

“We’re very persistent,” he said. “Even though we may not get a graduation ceremony, it’s still an accomplishment to finish high school, to finish this chapter in our lives.”

Midway ISD Superintendent George Kazanas said the education commissioner told all superintendents earlier this week that all they could plan for right now are virtual graduation ceremonies and that they must wait at least three more weeks before making any decisions on in-person ceremonies.

The school district is making alternative plans, such as an outdoor ceremony at Panther Stadium with graduates spaced 6 to 8 feet apart like the Air Force Academy did on April 18 for its 2020 graduation, Kazanas said. District administrators are looking at how many people could fit into the stadium while maintaining social distancing. Families could not attend the Air Force Academy ceremony, but Kazanas said he thinks it would be safe if families sit together.

Jose Yau

Waco High staff members prepare to cheer for graduating seniors at the school to pick up their graduation caps and gowns.

Waco ISD has formed a committee of students, parents and high school staff members to advise the district on how to adjust graduation if a traditional ceremony cannot be held, Superintendent Susan Kincannon said. The group met for the first time Friday afternoon and discussed ways to celebrate seniors. The group will meet again next week.

“This is an incredibly special time in the lives of the class of 2020, and we want to create some special moments to celebrate them to the extent possible,” Kincannon said.

The district also is seeking input from the community on how to celebrate seniors and their accomplishments, especially from seniors and their families. Waco ISD sent a letter to families Friday with information on how to provide feedback.

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