For high schoolers, the spring of your senior year is supposed to be a lively, fun, and relaxing time to celebrate your accomplishments over the past four years of your life. Festivities are planned, families are brought together, and camaraderie is everywhere. For Grace’s Class of 2020, this could not be farther from reality.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus in the United States has stolen their senior spring, not out of an abundance of caution but out of the need to stop the spread of a deadly virus that has already claimed tens of thousands of lives in America. There are many weeks and events that make up senior spring, the first of which is the tail end of the school year, where the stress of the college process and grades magically float away as the fun of summer and new beginnings arrive. This was the first thing to go. The last day of classes for the Class of 2020 is May 15th, a date where social distancing will undoubtedly still be in effect in New York State. Meaning the joy that typically fills the Senior Commons during these last few weeks will be replaced by the awkwardness of a large Zoom room as our new makeshift Senior Commons.
Following the end of the academic year for seniors is the Senior Trip, a two-night sendoff very much designed to end the student’s high school career as it began, with the Freshman Retreat. The Senior Trip was one of the first events to be officially canceled, as the implausibility of mass travel was apparent quickly after the switch to distance learning, with no plan of rescheduling.
The next and most important event of senior year is Graduation. Initially tapped for Friday, May 22nd, the commencement exercise has been at the forefront of the minds of all seniors, their parents, and the administration. Ms. Carpenter, Dean of the Class of 2020, gladly announced to her students on Wednesday that Graduation is now being planned for June 11th, 2020.
Before that, Grace sent out a survey to senior families asking them about their availability and preferences toward either a June, July, or Thanksgiving Graduation. Mr. Davison, Head of School, shared that “the class and parents resoundingly favor a June, in-person graduation.” Mr. Davison also acknowledged the unfortunate possibility that a June graduation is not guaranteed to be legal, depending on New York State’s guidelines for social distancing and mass gatherings at the time. To that end, he said the back-up plan is a Graduation on the Friday of Thanksgiving, which would be November 27th, 2020. An important detail which Mr. Davison remarked on is that no matter when commencement ceremonies are held, members of the Class of 2020 will officially graduate as scheduled, “it is still going to say May 22nd, 2020 on the diploma.”
Ms. Carpenter explained that there would be necessary changes to certain practices that have been in place at the four previous commencements. “Normally, all of the faculty, JK-12, attend Graduation,” mentioned Ms. Carpenter, “but in this case, JK-8 would not. And that would create more space in the chapel for there to be a socially distanced meeting.” Another provision that would need to be made to ensure social distancing during Graduation would be to limit the number of guests per senior family from ten to five. To accommodate this change, the ceremony will be live-streamed, so all the family members who could not be there in-person could still be able to celebrate their graduates.
As for the logistics of the ceremony itself, most would proceed as usual. The Senior Class would begin their day from the HS campus and make their way over to the chapel led by members of the Jazz Band, as every class before them has done. Graduation speaker, Rebecca Naomi Jones, a Grace alum herself, has committed to giving her address: “[Jones] is in Los Angeles right now, has said that if she cannot get back to New York, she would deliver her speech through Skype” declared Ms. Carpenter.
The plan for the June ceremony has the Senior Dinner, initially scheduled for the Wednesday night before Graduation, replaced by a Senior Luncheon at the 46 Gym. During this event, seniors would pay tributes to their advisors, Mr. Zia would speak, as he was voted to by the Class of 2020, and Ms. Carpenter would speak, acknowledging her warranted emotion during this trying time, “if I am able to speak” she followed up with. The luncheon would be accompanied by the Athletics Banquet, which was also postponed from its original date due to the pandemic.
The final event of all the senior celebrations is the Prom. Earlier into the reporting for this article, attitudes toward Prom were cautiously optimistic. However, a week later, those attitudes have shifted strongly, leading Ms. Carpenter to announce to her class that the Prom has been canceled. This was received by a mixed reaction from the students, intelligently met with the understanding that Prom would be the hardest of all the senior events to maintain social distancing throughout. However, a late development from Ms. Carpenter shared that Mr. Davison was willing to amuse the idea of an August Prom before the seniors head to college, as currently scheduled.
If this plan is legally allowed to go ahead, the only remaining caveat, as Mr. Davison has acknowledged in his hope to hold school in-person before the end of the year, is the ability to convene a critical mass. “We would try to make sure all 82 students could be there,” said Mr. Davison, “but if 80 can be there and two can’t, I think those are the kind of things you weigh. But if 60 can be there and 22 can’t, well then that doesn’t work.”
Having a legitimate plan in the works for Graduation is comforting to seniors who, in this time of unrelenting change and compromise, have been asked to give up more than anyone else in the academic world. As New York turns towards hope in their fight against coronavirus, an in-person Graduation for Grace’s Class of 2020 is no longer a long shot.