As we reflect back on the impact of the pandemic over the last 15 months, the area that jumps out as having been most impacted has been graduation (and all of the events leading up to it). At BFA, the high school graduation progression begins with our National Honor Society Induction ceremony in May followed shortly thereafter by the prom. The week leading up to graduation is filled with the class trip, graduation practices, Class Day, the Alumni Banquet, the actual Graduation Ceremony, and finally Project Graduation.
For the Class of 2020, all of these events were held virtually or cancelled. Our Graduation ceremony was held in two parts: the ceremony with speeches and awards was held over zoom followed by the students coming to BFA with their families to walk across the stage to receive their diploma. Pictures were taken and a gift bag was given by Project Graduation. All told, the event lasted eight hours. There were some technical difficulties, but there were also many positive aspects and memorable moments that will last a lifetime. The obvious downside was that the Class of 2020 was not able to be physically with each other for any part of the ceremony.
As we began planning for graduation for the Class of 2021, our number one priority was that the members of the class would be together at graduation. Our vision early in the school year was the 80 graduates under the graduation tent all physically distant from each other with a live streamed ceremony for their families. As the “spigot” opened up in Vermont, it became apparent that we could have two family members with each graduate and still remain within the guidelines as they were at that time. When Governor Scott released the Vermont Forward Plan on April 8, we increased the number of guests for each graduate to four. With about 80 graduates and four guests each, our crowd size would be around 400. It’s less than we normally would have, but it’s certainly the largest group of people any of us have been with since early in 2020.
As we move toward graduation on June 12th, Vermont will be in Step 3 which will allow up to 900 unvaccinated attendees at an outdoor event. This would allow us to increase our guests per graduate to 6 (our typical number), but if we have learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s that nothing truly goes according to plan. We would much rather surprise families with additional seats as we get closer to graduation than have to take seats away due a sudden surge in the community.
As for the other events that lead up to graduation, we are adjusting and adapting as we go. Class Day is typically an event for the entire high school. Parents are invited to attend as well. Since the event is typically held in our gym and visitors are not allowed in the building this year, we had to rethink the event. We will hold a Senior Award ceremony under the tent on the Friday afternoon before graduation. This will allow family members to see their students recognized for their achievements while maintaining health and safety guidelines. We will hold a virtual awards ceremony during the school day for students in grades 9 – 11.
Students have taken the lead in adapting other pre-graduation events. The junior class has organized “Prom in the Park” to be held under a tent on the town recreation field. The National Honor Society Induction will be held in the same place (sans tent). The senior class officers have organized a field day to take the place of the class trip. Their goal is to have a day together as a class that doesn’t require travel or great expense.
The Class of 2021 has endured great upheaval during the last 15 months. The health and safety guidelines continue to test our creativity as we try to finalize our plans. Our students have been resilient, cooperative and understanding through it all; our goal is to make the end of their high school years memorable and positive. They deserve nothing less.
John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252