As the end of the 2020-21 school year nears, local high schools are working out how they can make graduation celebrations as special and close to “normal” as possible while following guidelines on gatherings and social distancing.
In Kankakee School District 111, the plan is to divide the graduating Kankakee High School class into three groups and host the ceremonies on the football field. Ceremonies will be at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. May 27, with no more than 115 students per group.
Edith Petty, assistant principal over the senior class, said the graduating senior class is between 285 and 300 students this year. Each graduate will be allowed to bring up to six guests.
A new electronic billboard that was installed on the football field this year will be utilized in the ceremony as well, she said.
Last year, graduation was held inside the auditorium and spread out over three separate days, with students allowed to bring up to two guests with them while they waited to walk across the stage.
Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School will also host graduation outdoors at its football field. There will be one ceremony at 7:30 p.m. May 21.
Each student will be allowed to bring up to six guests, which is one more than they are usually allowed to bring for an indoor ceremony.
Guests will be seated on both sides of the field, and masks will be required.
The high school has a contingency plan for weather; in the event of rain, the ceremony may be pushed to the weekend or the following week. Plans will be communicated around that date if that is the case.
Superintendent Scott Wakeley said about 500 seniors are in the graduating class, though some have graduated early and not all plan to attend the ceremony.
Olivet Nazarene University was considered as a venue, but its capacity limitations would have meant fewer guests would be allowed for the ceremony, he said.
Last year, graduation was held in the BBCHS auditorium, with 10 students sent into the school at a time to walk individually across the stage and pose for a picture while the ceremony was livestreamed for family members to watch.
As BBCHS was one of the first schools of its size to host a graduation ceremony of any kind after the COVID-19 pandemic began, multiple TV news crews were on scene to document the event.
“Last year was fun and unique, but we don’t want to ever do it again,” Wakeley said.
Momence High School will also utilize its football field for a commencement celebration.
The graduation ceremony itself is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. May 14 inside the junior high school gymnasium, with students each allowed to bring up to four guests. The ceremony will also be livestreamed.
Superintendent Shannon Anderson said the high school will also be carrying over a tradition that started last year due to the pandemic’s limitations.
The ceremony will culminate in the evening with students gathering on the football field for a final countdown, with vehicles pulling onto the track, flashing lights and honking in celebration while the scoreboard counts down.
He said families seemed to really enjoy the countdown, an unintended positive take away from the pandemic.
“It’s been a long year for everyone, so we just want to try to finish things right and look onto what’s going to be coming forward as we go into the next school year,” Anderson said.