Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school was closed and events were canceled last spring, including prom and graduation. Events this year will look a little different, but with a year to plan and the recently increased limits on outdoor social gatherings (due to widespread vaccinations and lower infection rates in Virginia), the schools are finding creative ways to host outdoor graduation ceremonies, modified senior prom and more to highlight a successful end to a challenging school year.
“As you can imagine, in past years, William Monroe High School—or any high school, to be honest—in springtime is bustling with activity. Seniors are preparing for the future that lies ahead of them and my ninth-, tenth- and eleventh-graders have met their rite of passage to move up to a new grade level,” said WMHS Principal Katie Brunelle at the April 14 school board meeting. “This spring is not going to be much different than that; we are going to do everything we can to provide as many opportunities for our students that will be what they would consider ‘regular’ springtime high school activities.”
Seniors and senior parents were sent a letter April 2 with the initial information about graduation festivities for the year, and additional details were released April 16. The senior class met as a group in the football stadium on Monday, April 19, and parents were invited to a Zoom meeting that same evening to go over expectations and planning.
“The stadium will be set up for the graduation of the class of 2021, which will place at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning (June 5),” Brunelle said. “All seniors at this current time will be given four tickets for family members, friends—whoever they would like to share with to come into the stadium. That number is based on us following mitigation strategies and the governor’s order to make sure that everyone is socially distanced and maintaining proper accountability while we’re in the stadium.”
The class meeting last week was the first time many seniors have seen their classmates all year, due to the hybrid and virtual learning options this year. During the same day, PSAT testing was taking place in the school, seniors were picking up their graduation caps and gowns, juniors were ordering class rings and Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s School seniors were giving presentations in the performing arts center.
On Saturday, April 24, the school held a modified prom for the senior class at the Barn at Lydia Mountain. With around 25% of the class attending, the students came to the site in two shifts, with cleaning and sanitizing in between.
Beginning the first week of May, the seven senior art students will showcase their artwork in the main lobby for classmates and visitors to view. During that week, the school will post “decision day” photos to social media—submitted images of all the seniors in their class T-shirts, which they are taking home to decorate to say where they are headed—whether to college or the workforce. A May 6 virtual awards ceremony will detail scholarships earned by the senior class as well as Career and Technical Education certifications, athletic awards and more.
In addition to planning a socially distant graduation ceremony for this year’s graduating class (which will also be live-streamed for home viewing), a smaller ceremony will be offered on Friday, June 4, for members of the class of 2020 who want the opportunity to walk across the stage. WMHS held a modified drive-thru ceremony last year, but some parents and students have opted to participate in this “do-over”—roughly 60 graduates, or about one-quarter of the class of 2020, have responded so far that they intend to participate, according to Brunelle.
For the dual-enrollment students and Early College Scholars, Piedmont Virginia Community College will be holding a virtual graduation followed by a drive-thru celebration on the main Charlottesville campus May 14.
With just five weeks left of school, planning for end-of-year ceremonies and celebrations is occurring concurrently with standardized testing, spring sports and many other activities in the high school.
“While all of this is going on, we still have roughly 300 students working their way through the building, we’re picking up meals on Mondays and we’re giving out shots on Saturdays, so there is a lot taking place here … and we want to continue to try to operate as normal as we can for our students,” Brunelle said.
The last day of school is June 4.