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And action! ESD high schools produce virtual commencement ceremonies

By: Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

In-person graduation ceremonies for Edmonds School District’s (ESD) class of 2020 have been canceled due to COVID-19, replaced with virtual ceremonies.  

“It is just not possible to hold any kind of in-person ceremony in June,” explained ESD Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab in a letter to district families. “We recognize not having an in-person ceremony is disappointing… the district is leaving the possibility open to hold an in-person ceremony later in the summer if conditions surrounding COVID-19 change.”

With the ESD high schools’ ability to celebrate traditionally up in the air, they are proceeding with several planned activities through producing and eventually broadcasting virtual ceremonies.

ESD high school production dates for their virtual graduations fell on June 1, 2, or 3, where all of the footage needed for a graduation ceremony production was filmed, including various scheduled speeches and commentaries from class and staff members. Students of the different schools were driven to campus by their families at a designated time, where they stepped out of the vehicle with their cap and gown on, had their name announced, and received their diploma cover.

Then they got back in their cars and drove away.

“Although it’s not the graduation ceremony we all hoped for, we are doing our best to include as many personal touches as we would normally have done to celebrate these amazing young adults,” explained Scriber Lake High School Principal Andrea Hillman.  

The evening of June 3, Scriber staff was on site, maintaining physical distancing, to help in the celebration of their graduates. Peter Folta, a Scriber Lake social studies teacher, said that being able to host a production day created a sense of closure for staff members by allowing them to connect with their students and celebrate their success.

“This became like a real ceremony, but it’s just more spread out. It doesn’t feel any less personal,” explained Folta. “It is a little different, but it’s just the sign of our times.” 

Michael Swanson, a Scriber Lake 2020 graduate, says he didn’t know what to expect when he found out he would be participating in a staged graduation.  Although it wasn’t what he imagined his graduation experience to be, it still acted as a milestone moment for him.

“It’s different, it’s a lot different than how I imagined my graduation. I do think it’s still significant in my life, but I don’t think it’s as much as a full ceremony would’ve been,” explained Swanson. “But it’s something I’m still proud of. At least we got to do something so I’m thankful for that.”

Understanding that it would be impossible to completely recreate a student’s in-person experience of walking across the stage in front of a large group of their class, friends and families, some of the high schools added touches to make the production day feel extra special.

Meadowdale High School laid out a red carpet for graduating seniors for their graduation production day the morning of Tuesday, June 2. Students were dropped off at one end of the runway, where families then drove to a viewing area, watched their graduate walk it, stop at the staging area for their diploma and a photo, and then proceed down the runway.

Each ESD high school individually produced virtual graduation ceremony was based upon student needs and school traditions, with the support of graduation memorabilia manufacturer Jostens Company and Everett-based media production company Life N Light.

Searching for ways to continue to serve student clients after temporarily closing due to COVID-19, President of Life N Light Easton Lemos began speaking with local Jostens representative Scott Krenz to brainstorm what they could offer schools to help the graduating seniors have the closest experience possible to a traditional ceremony.

Together, the two companies fostered the creation of an all-inclusive package that would safely bring students in timed increments into a pop-up studio graduation setting, where Life N Light recorded videos and captured images of them walking across a decorated stage and showing off their diploma. Each student also had professional photos taken in their graduation attire.

“We have been so joyful in seeing students and teachers alike thanking us for making their graduations feel special and prioritized in this challenging time,” expressed Lemos. “Our team is beyond grateful for the hard work and generosity coming from every school district to bring light into the unfortunate reality graduates have had to face in the last two months.”

All of the Edmonds School District school’s production efforts will be edited into a televised ceremony for families to view from home, taking place during each high school’s originally scheduled graduation date and time.

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