Class of 2020
SENIORS ASKED HOW THEY WANT TO CELEBRATE
Richmond considers a drive-thru or virtual graduation.
When Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras announced in March that city schools would close for two weeks, Alexis Gresham felt relief.
“Honestly, I was excited. I was like ‘I get a two-week break in my senior year, this is amazing,’ ” the Thomas Jefferson High School student recalled, with a laugh. “We were all happy because we were all getting a break.”
Within days, the Footlocker where she worked closed. The company at first kept paying its employees. That stopped, too. Then Gov. Ralph Northam shuttered schools for the rest of the academic year, adding a photo of Gresham smiling as she walked across the graduation stage to the list of things COVID19 has stolen.
“When [Northam] said that, I just burst into tears,” Gresham said. “My senior year really ended without a final goodbye. It was devastating to me and my mom.”
Kamras is seeking feedback from seniors about graduation, and he’s hoping they’ll email him (email@example.com). Some seniors, like Gresham, already have weighed in on the sort of graduation they would like to see.
She wanted answers about how the school system plans to celebrate, so she submitted public comments to the city’s school board, which were read aloud Monday.
Gresham’s mother, Mary, has been teaching for the school system for more than 30 years. Gresham is the oldest child, which means the June 17th graduation ceremony would have been the household’s first.
“Graduation is a momentous occasion that my peers and I look forward to,” Gresham wrote. “I am sure that all involved especially seniors and their family members will not mind a scaled back ceremony that aligns with CDC guidelines.”
At the end of that same meeting, Kamras announced two possible plans for graduation: a virtual one and a drive-thru graduation, with the Arthur Ashe center as a possible venue.
Both have their pros and cons. He said the drive-thru would feel more personal, but could be more challenging. “Logistically it’s a little complicated. You have to do all the social distancing and make sure you have a good PA system so everyone can hear everything,” he said.
The virtual option would be a video for each high school in which they would record regular speeches, like the ones from the valedictorian. Slideshows of seniors would include some of their most memorable moments.
“The virtual one is great because logistically it’s much less difficult to pull off,” Kamras said, “but you don’t get that personal day of graduation experience.”
Gresham said a virtual celebration isn’t enough.
She’s spent every minute of her academic career with
Richmond Public Schools and invested her ‘free’ time in extracurriculars, such as the National Honor Society, Guild USA, the Principal’s Advisory Committee and the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee, along with the Technology Student Association.
But she worries a drive-thru ceremony would leave some families behind. What would students without access to vehicles do? Kamras isn’t sure. He said his administration is working on answers.
Gresham’s ideal ceremony would resemble Louisa County’s, where students received their diploma and were able to take pictures with their family, but no one filled the stands.
Kamras said he discussed the event with the Louisa County Superintendent and hoped the drive-thru option could borrow from that ceremony.
School board member Felicia Cosby said she wants what the seniors want. “I’m really encouraged that we’re working on some plans. I hope before they’re finalized we get some input from our soon-to-be graduates. This graduating class, we want to make sure they’re recognized for all their hard work,” she said. “I just want to be able to go with what our graduating seniors and their parents think would be optimal.”
The board has until June 1 to decide. Gresham hopes they settle on a plan soon.
“Make it memorable,” she said.
Family members and friends took photos as 2019 George Wythe High School graduates marched at the Altria Theater in Richmond last June.