Dover, Lake Forest formulate graduation ceremony plans

Lake Forest teacher Dwayne Smith sets up a congratulation sign for students who are picking up their cap and gown at the high school on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Plans on how to tackle the biggest event in high school are still being released, with districts addressing what is typically a uniformly traditional event in creative ways.

For some, that includes trying to re-create the hallmarks of a traditional ceremony, but with coronavirus caveats.

“We surveyed our senior class and out of 222 responses, the most important part of their graduation ceremony to them was walking across the stage — 44%,” said Courtney Voshell, principal of Dover High School, last week during a school board meeting. “And that’s heartbreaking for me to say out loud because that’s the one thing that’s almost impossible to replicate.”

Lake Forest teacher Amy Hudson prepares to give a student his graduation cap and gown on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

But Dover High — and Lake Forest High School — are going to try.

At Dover, the graduation will be recorded and released on June 3 at 6 p.m. A production company will film the typical speakers, like Dr. Voshell, Capital School District Superintendent Dan Shelton and the student speakers.

With the help of the film crew, a high resolution photo will be snapped of the stage, which will be decorated in its traditional graduation fashion. Seniors will be able to come by and take the classic graduation photo in front of the backdrop the first week of June.

Lake Forest teacher Luke Pierson holds a congratulation sign for students who are picking up their cap and gown at the high school on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Lake Forest’s seniors will, by appointed times, walk the stage at the end of May. The stage will be decorated, district administrators will be present and students will walk and pose for photos. Immediate family members may also pose for photos.

During the walk, social distancing requirements will be followed, and participants are required to wear masks.

Students picked up their cap and gowns Wednesday,

On June 9 at 5:30 p.m., Lake Forest, which also partnered with a production company, will also stream a virtual ceremony. The ceremony will follow the traditional program closely, including the class president’s remarks, as well as the top students.

Meanwhile, other districts are still determining plans.

At Sussex Technical High School, the board voted to unanimously delay graduation until the district receives information on when restrictions can be lifted.

Parent Sarah Hewitt gives a student their cap and gown at Lake Forest High School on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“This means that the graduation ceremony could take place later in June. However, a specific date has not been set. The Governor is scheduled to announce an easing of some restrictions on June 1, and the guidance concerning graduations may change,” John Demby, principal of Sussex Tech, wrote in a letter to seniors.

The board will meet again in June to revisit ceremony options.

“A delayed graduation was our best choice based on our limited options. It was also your top choice in the recent survey we conducted,” he continued.

Indian River’s school board will discuss graduation proposals during its meeting Monday. It is likewise a discussion for Polytech’s school board Tuesday.

Beyond commencement, special events — like signings for athletes, or awards ceremonies — have also had to migrate to new platforms or be canceled. But the pandemic has also brought new ideas forth, too.

At Dover High School, when seniors go through the drive-thru on May 21 to pick up their caps and gowns, the seniors will get to leave their mark in the form of a lock.

“We also had a student leave us with a really great idea in the committee. In Paris, they leave locks on the gate to symbolize they were there with their sweetheart. So we kind of stole that, since we’re the year of lockdown, and we’re going to dedicate a section of our fence for the class that is graduating during the lock down, for them to leave their lock behind,” Dr. Voshell said. “That will be a memory for them that will remain with us forever.”

The decisions on how to conduct graduation run the gamut for districts — from proposing later dates in the summer with the hope that restrictions will completely lift, to plans for a socially distant ceremony, to an entirely virtual ceremony.

“I am a super proud principal sitting here and this has been one of the hardest committees and conversations to lead as we are in the middle of a global pandemic,” Dr. Voshell told the board. “So I have tried, lost a lot of sleep about what is the best step forward for our students and I believe once we get through all of the things we have planned, our seniors and our parents will look back on it and say this was the best thing we could have done in the worst case scenario. But getting there might be difficult to process.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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