Even with an audience of none, the Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School Class of 2020 graduation ceremony Wednesday was a big deal.
About 400 students arrived in small groups and were sent 10 at a time into the school to wait at socially distanced markers, pose for a picture, walk across the stage, take their diploma and leave.
While a lone videographer replaced spectators in the auditorium, a handful of teachers and administrators were on hand to coordinate and congratulate students. Drivers passing by the school honked and waved; parents waited excitedly in cars with balloons and banners, and multiple TV news crews arrived to capture the socially distanced ceremony that was one of the first of its kind.
Superintendent Scott Wakeley said everything from the great weather to timing worked out perfectly.
“I think the best part is every car, every parent and every kid is excited and happy and smiling,” he said. “Those are the things that make this whole thing worthwhile.”
After weeks of careful planning in collaboration with the Kankakee County Health Department, the ceremony almost didn’t happen.
One week earlier, state education officials said in-person graduation ceremonies of any kind wouldn’t be allowed. Facing backlash from districts across the state, the Illinois State Board of Education released new guidelines Saturday for allowable in-person ceremonies.
D’Angelo Alvarado, a graduating senior who plans to study business at Loyola University in Chicago, said the ceremony went better than he expected.
“I thought it was going to be a little bit chaotic since this was the first time ever for a lot of things, but I think BBCHS handled it pretty well and we all got to graduate,” he said. “We all got to walk the stage. That’s what really matters.”
Although he appreciated the experience, Alvarado said it felt a bit odd to walk in front of an empty auditorium.
“A normal graduation, there’s thousands of people, but now it’s all dead, and you just feel weird,” he said. “You don’t know whether to smile or just walk by as if it’s an everyday thing. I just grabbed my diploma and kept on walking.”
Alvarado said finishing classes online went well, but it was hard to get used to the idea that he wouldn’t be seeing his teachers and friends or enjoying his last days of high school.
“I wish I would have went to prom and had a real graduation, but I’m glad for what I have and I can’t be complaining, because people have less,” he said.
Reece Brown, a graduating senior who plans to study nursing and play volleyball at Millikin University in Decatur, also said she was disappointed she couldn’t attend prom; she had already purchased her prom dress.
“It’s been hard because this is the summer before college, so obviously we want to spend time with our friends,” she said. “At least we had something to look forward to with this [ceremony].”
Brown said she was thankful the school went through with the ceremony.
“It just means a lot after the four years we were here that they could do something special for us,” she said.
Chase Bouck, a graduating senior who plans to study sports journalism at Arizona State University, said the ceremony was “one to remember.”
“It was definitely a different feeling, especially walking in and seeing a bunch of blue Xs everywhere, having to stand 6 feet away from each other,” he said. “But we just have to follow the guidelines and do the best we can do.”
Bouck said he wishes he could have gone to prom, graduated to the sound of cheers and applause, and made memories with friends leading up to the end of high school.
“[Senior year] is a once-in-a-life type thing, and you don’t get it back,” he said. “It was definitely tough, but you’ve got to make the best out of a horrible situation.”
Keegan Brumitt, a graduating senior who plans to study business administration and pre-medicine and play volleyball at Carthage College in Wisconsin, said he was glad ISBE allowed schools to have graduation ceremonies, as the experience provided closure to his time in high school.
“Every person I saw walking in, even though I couldn’t see it, I could tell they had a smile on their face,” he said. “It was just uplifting.”
Brumitt was class vice president and student council president. He also played tennis, but he missed out on his last season.
“It was definitely very hard to get the social aspect of high school taken away from me,” he said. “I know for everyone the main point of high school is building relationships with friends, so getting that taken away, it was pretty tough.”
Joanna Cortes, a graduating senior who plans to study nursing at Bradley University in Peoria, said the shift to remote learning was difficult, but she pushed through the past couple months.
“Since seniors lose their motivation anyway toward the end of the year, it’s kind of hard to keep at it,” she said.
Cortes said she missed out on making college visits. She wasn’t able to visit Bradley University before campuses were shut down, so she had to make her decision based on virtual tours and talks with alumni.
Cortes said she feels lucky she was able to walk across the stage for graduation when many other high school seniors didn’t, though she wishes her parents could’ve attended.
“Even if it was something small, it was something,” she said.
Isaac Fabbro, a graduating senior who plans to study actuarial science at Valparaiso University in Indiana, said he felt a mix of emotions after the ceremony.
“I’m excited but disappointed at the same time, kind of like getting robbed of the moment almost,” he said. “But I’m glad that we at least got the moment to share it with others with the recording.”
Fabbro said he was looking forward to the last school concert of the year where seniors play the fight songs from their prospective universities. He plays french horn in his school’s band.
“At the end of the day, [the pandemic] is something that happened and we can’t change that,” he said. “I’ve had the mindset that it’ll end eventually, and that once things resume to normal, we’ll remember this day as, ‘Wow, that happened on my graduation day.’”
SPRINGFIELD — As statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable, state leaders say not much has changed to warrant an altered response to the pandemic.
“The virus hasn’t gone away. It is still out there, and nothing that we’re doing now is changing that fact,” Gov. JB Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday in Chicago. “What we have changed, what has made things better, what has reduced the number of potential infections and the number of people going into the hospital and dying, is the fact that people have adhered to the stay-at-home order.”
The governor’s comments came one day after he laid out a five-phase, region-specific reopening plan that requires several improvements in hospitalization and case growth metrics before the state can slowly begin reopening its economy and rolling back social distancing measures.
It also came as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported the virus has now sickened 68,232 residents and is linked to 2,974 deaths. In the past 24 hours, 136 COVID-19-related deaths and 2,270 more confirmed cases were reported.
Hospitalization figures, which are reported daily by the various regions, have remained in a relative plateau for about a month. As of midnight, there were 4,832 COVID-19-positive individuals hospitalized, 1,231 in intensive care units and 780 on ventilators statewide.
There were 14,974 people tested in the past 24 hours, making for a 15.2 positivity rate.
A positivity rate below 20 percent for 14 straight days is a precondition in Pritzker’s plan before any region can move from phase two, or the “flattening” phase the state is currently in, to phase three, in which barbershops, salons and other select businesses can reopen and gatherings of up to 10 people can resume.
Phase five, or a full reopening of the economy, could be well over a year away, and is dependent on a vaccine being available, an effective and widely available treatment, or the elimination of new cases in a region.
“Well, I’m not the one holding back the economy from stage five, the COVID-19 virus is,” Pritzker said. “That’s the thing that’s been causing the very high infection rates, the hospitalizations and the deaths.”
House Republicans on Wednesday criticized the plan, saying it would not work and would kill small businesses, and they called on Democratic leaders to call a legislative session — perhaps at a Springfield convention center to make social distancing possible.
“This plan presumes that the governor shall rule the state for the upcoming months, and possibly much longer, if the vaccination is not available,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said in a videoconference. “I took an oath of office to faithfully discharge my duties in the coequal branch of the government called the Legislature. I did not abdicate nor relinquish my elected responsibilities to the executive branch.”
At the briefing Wednesday, officials also faced questions as to how congregate settings would play into the reopening phases, as some communities with nursing homes or prisons are seeing elevated deaths and cases focused mainly in those facilities.
“Even if you were to keep everybody in a nursing facility that’s a resident … you have staff coming in and out literally every day, multiple shifts,” Pritzker said. “Many of those people live in the areas that those nursing homes and prisons exist and so I don’t think people should ignore the idea that there’s an infection in one of these congregate settings, thinking that it doesn’t have any effect on the community, so no, we’re not ignoring those.”
Pritzker said his plan does not consider when nursing homes can reopen to allow regular visits with family members.
“Nothing in this situation has changed to decrease the risk for that most vulnerable population,”
Daily Journal staff report
KANKAKEE — Kankakee Community College is preparing to distribute a little over $633,000 in financial aid to students affected by the disruption of courses moving online in March, according to a press release.
The money comes from the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, part of an emergency stimulus package for colleges and universities, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The CARES Act includes roughly $14 billion in funds for higher education institutions, of which $12.56 billion is being distributed to institutions based on student enrollment.
At least 50 percent of those funds must go toward providing students with emergency grants to help cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus.
This includes eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and childcare.
To apply for these funds, KCC students must also be eligible to file a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
Students do not have to already be receiving financial aid to be eligible, and for those who do receive financial aid, funds from the CARES Act will not affect that money.
Most credit division students enrolled during the spring 2020 semester or registered for the summer 2020 semester are eligible to apply for CARES Act funds. Select groups, including international students, adult education students and other non-credit students, are ineligible to receive the funds.
However, emergency funding from the KCC Foundation is available to those students.
Amounts given will vary by student based on their individual need and financial strain. The process includes an application and demonstration of need. It will take up to two weeks to determine eligibility, process requests, print and send checks. The first checks are expected to be sent by the end of May.
A link to the CARES Act Fund application will be available by May 7 on the KCC website, kcc.edu.
For more information, students can contact the KCC Financial Aid Office at 815-802-8550 or email@example.com.
Daily Journal staff report
KANKAKEE — The city of Kankakee administration is hoping that a recently acquired grant will bolster the city’s self-response rate for the 2020 Census.
Thanks to Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, the city has secured a $10,000 grant from the National League of Cities. The funds will sponsor a Get-Out-The-Count effort as a push to complete an accurate count for the 2020 Census. An accurate count is important because it will impact the amount of federal funding that will be distributed to communities for resources and services that will assist with healthcare, child care, education, transportation and more.
The grant program, which will award $1.6 million in funding to municipalities, was announced during the NLC Congressional Cities Conference in March.
“I am very excited to announce this news,” the mayor said in a press release. “I applied for the grant while attending this conference to secure additional resources for staff support and marketing resources.”
The funding will be used to further promote the 2020 Census, assist with reaching the harder-to-count areas in the city and incentivize participation.
“Also, I plan to hire two interns between the ages of 16-24 to work on census activities, specifically targeting our youth,”she said.
While restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus have altered census initiatives, the United States Census Bureau announced an extension for self-response to Oct. 31. Residents are encouraged to self-report by mail, phone or online at 2020census.gov. Currently, the self-response rate for the state of Illinois is 62.4% and the City of Kankakee self-response rate is 49%.