The Class of 2021 is rewarded with big graduation ceremonies after COVID school year

·2 min read

A school year that started in August with high school seniors taking classes online is ending with big in-person graduation ceremonies filled with pomp and circumstance.

Most Wake County high schools are holding graduation ceremonies this week, marking the first time that some seniors have seen their Virtual Academy classmates all year.

On Wednesday, seniors at Broughton, Millbrook, South Garner and Wake Forest high schools walked across the stage in front of the large crowds that were denied to last year’s graduates.

The Class of 2021 saw their last year and a half of high school disrupted beyond what they could imagine by the coronavirus pandemic. Wake high school students had online only classes from mid-March 2020 to mid-February 2021.

Even when Wake high school students initially returned, they were only getting one week of in-person classes out of every three weeks. Wake high school students didn’t get daily in-person classes until April after spring break.

“Virtual learning. Rotating schedules. Sacrificing the ability to share many of the ‘rites of passage’ senior events and activities,” the district said on its website. “Through it all, this class has exhibited grace and dignity in the face of adversity.”

As the school year came to a close, high schools worked to give seniors something closer to a normal graduation ceremony. Last year’s more restrictive North Carolina COVID-19 rules had caused high schools to hold drive-through graduation ceremonies or timed individual walk-throughs.

On-campus graduations this year

Due to the pandemic, Wake high schools are holding graduations on campus instead of traditional venues like the Raleigh Convention Center. Most schools are holding outdoor graduations at their football stadium.

Initially, schools planned to hold graduation ceremonies with limited seating capacity, social distancing and face masks required. But schools made last-minute changes after Gov. Roy Cooper lifted capacity limits and most face mask requirements.

Wake is still requiring face masks to be worn at indoor graduation ceremonies, but not at the outdoor venues.

The state changes allowed some schools like Wake Forest to consolidate ceremonies to have one big graduation instead of multiple smaller events. Schools are also holding individualized ceremonies for seniors who don’t feel comfortable attending a large graduation event.