Class of 2020

SE­NIORS ASKED HOW THEY WANT TO CEL­E­BRATE

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY KENYA HUNTER Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch khunter@times­dis­patch.com (804) 649-6948

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 (jkam­ras@rvaschools.net). 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.

DANIEL SANGJIB MIN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Fam­ily mem­bers and friends took pho­tos as 2019 Ge­orge Wythe High School grad­u­ates marched at the Al­tria The­ater in Rich­mond last June.

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