Dissatisfied students and families in FL still want in-person graduation ceremonies when COVID-19 wanes

Friends taking selfies at graduation. Credit: Getty Images

Thousands of students from Florida’s 2020 high school graduating class aren’t satisfied with virtual graduation ceremonies and want traditional in-person commencement exercises when COVID-19 subsides.

They’re pushing for later dates for the iconic cap-and-gown ceremonies, when the cornonavirus pandemic wanes to safer conditions.

In that regard, kids and families have been starting change.org petitions across the nation, including several petitions launched by thousands of Florida students and parents. The petitioners are urging districts to consider hosting ceremonies in June, July or August.

Although virtual platforms such as Zoom have frequently been used as an alternative for in-person graduations amid a global health crisis, there has been pushback from students across the nation.

In Pinellas County, a petition was started by a senior at St. Petersburg High School, which collected around 4,653 signatures as of Monday, according to change.org.

Most students in that district would prefer postponing celebrations rather than a virtual one, said Meira Kowalski, the graduating senior. Kowalski posted a message on change.org, saying most “students favored a delayed, in-person graduation compared to one online.”

“As a graduating senior at St. Petersburg High School, I am extremely disappointed by Pinellas County School’s decision to make this year’s graduation commencement virtual. We have waited thirteen years to walk across the stage and mark this momentous life transition and are now being denied this opportunity,” Kowalski wrote.

Other petitions have come from large school districts such as Orange in central Florida and Broward in South Florida. And a petition to the St. Johns County School District in northeast Florida has garnered over 12,000 signatures, according to change.org.

Jillian LaValley, who started the petition for the St. Johns district, said, “the seniors of 2020 deserve to walk across the stage for their accomplishments and success throughout their schooling.”

LaValley continued: “It is unfair to simply cancel normal ceremonies and move the graduation to virtual premises because the seniors are unable to experience what every other person has been able to feel.”

Meanwhile, the Leon County School district has decided to host what’s called drive-in graduation ceremonies at the usual time in the spring, for its nearly 2,500 graduating seniors, School Supt. Rocky Hanna said in a Facebook announcement. Hanna said a Zoom graduation ceremony would be “too impersonal.”

“I started thinking what would that look like…I started thinking about that concept, and it kind of grew on me,” Hanna said, adding that the decision was made after consulting with state health officials.

The ceremonies would take place at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, with cars involved to receive recognition for graduates.

The Leon high school ceremonies will be four hours a day for three days in late May.

“A high school graduation ceremony is one of the important times in your life, and one of the most special days of your life,” said Supt. Hanna in the Facebook announcement.

The Phoenix has written about college graduations as well, with Florida universities looking to virtual spring commencement ceremonies, but also bringing spring graduates back to campus at a future date.

New College of Florida, in Sarasota, was looking at hosting a sunset commencement ceremony in December, according to the college’s website.

But colleges in Tallahassee such as Florida A&M University and Florida State University planned on using StageClip, a company that produces video clips for online distribution, to provide a virtual graduation celebration for its graduates this spring.