Class of 2020, Part 1: High schools turn to virtual resources, social media and creativity to honor graduates

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(Camille Barnett photo)

 

The final months and weeks leading up to high school graduation tend to hold anticipated end-of-year senior traditions, celebrations and countdowns, but this semester is different.

The class of 2020 won’t be able to celebrate their accomplishments with hugs from faculty and classmates this month; they won’t be able to graduate in a venue surrounded by cheers from family and friends; and they won’t be able to walk proudly across a stage to receive a handshake and a diploma.

When Gov. John Bel Edwards announced school closures for the remainder of the semester in mid-March, students were faced with the challenge of adjusting to a new normal of distant learning.

Now, with the state-wide stay-at-home order extended through May 15, graduating seniors are confronted with another major unprecedented change: a socially distanced graduation celebration.

“Once you start your freshman year of high school, all you can think about is walking across that stage your senior year to make yourself and family proud,” said Rayon Pratt, a graduating senior at Landry-Walker high school. “Not being able to partake in all of the senior events after all of my hard work is unfair.

“I understand that there’s no one to blame for COVID-19 — and that these things were taken away from us to help protect us and our family — but the seniors of 2020 are heartbroken.”

Ursuline Academy’s Analise Marshall. (Pat Garin Photographer LLC)

Analise Marshall, senior class president at Ursuline Academy, agrees that this semester has been especially difficult for her and her classmates.

“I feel like I didn’t get to say my goodbyes, and that’s really taking a toll on me because senior year has been so special so far, and I hate that it ended this way,” she said.

However, Marshall went on to say that she still feels connected with her classmates because of her school administration’s implementations and support.

Like Ursuline, many schools are putting forth extensive efforts to ensure their graduating seniors feel recognized, connected and celebrated.

In response to COVID-19 guidelines, many high schools have implemented virtual commencement ceremonies this month, with traditional ceremonies tentatively rescheduled in August and July.

See the below for a list of ways that New Orleans high schools are turning to virtual gatherings, social media and other creative ways to honor traditions, commencement, and the class of 2020.

Signs on the Lusher Charter High School campus honor the school’s class of 2020. (via lusherschool.org)

Lusher Charter High School

As Lusher Charter High School students wrapped up their final weeks of distance learning, signs were placed at the Freret Street campus for each Lusher senior.

The school will hold a virtual commencement ceremony on May 23 that will include speeches by members of the faculty and senior class president.

Before the ceremony, seniors will receive a graduation kit delivered to their home that will include car window markers, decorations, poster board, and cap and gown.

After commencement, graduates will get in decorated vehicles and drive a designated route passing more 250 homes of Lusher students, the Willow Street campus and the Freret Street campus.

Families, staff and students will decorate their homes and cheer on the Class of 2020 graduates as they pass by. The Class of 2020 will finish the stroll at Lusher High School where administration and staff will hand out diplomas individually. Graduates will walk across the stage, receive their diploma, and turn their tassel.

New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School

A SciHigh senior in the students’ “Don’t Rush” video.

On May 27, SciHigh students will have the opportunity to walk a stage to collect their diploma, while taking into account social distancing. The location has not yet been determined.

Students walking the stage will be recorded and live-streamed on youtube. The full graduation with the guest speaker, valedictorian/salutatorian speech, and students walking the stage will be available afterward.

A compilation video was put together of seniors participating in the trending “Don’t Rush” challenge; they each wore a college T-shirt in their videos to announce their career choice and the university they plan to attend.

Faculty also surprised seniors with yard signs and banners at their homes.

Ursuline Academy high school teachers deliver a single red rose with a special message to each senior’s house. (via Facebook)

Ursuline Academy

Baccalaureate Mass and graduation have been postponed to July 10.

A virtual senior art show was held; seniors created a website to display and talk about their work. Senior art show buttons were placed inside a goody bag of treats and delivered to seniors’ houses.

Each day on social media, a senior is highlighted with a write-up that includes her future college and a senior portrait.

A video with words of encouragement from the school’s teachers, along with a video from the Academy’s “Katrina Class,” letting graduates know they understand what it feels like to lose a part of senior year, were recorded and also posted on social media.

A virtual Senior Farewell Mass was held, and prior to Mass, high school teachers delivered a single red rose with a special message to each senior’s house, an Ursuline tradition.

During the Mass, a slideshow of pictures from the past four years was shown, and a virtual countdown video was created by seniors and shared on the day and time they would have done it on campus.

The Academy’s Alumnae Board will be making special deliveries to seniors’ houses on May 16, the day they were scheduled to graduate.

Isidore Newman School (Camille Barnett)

Isidore Newman

The Class of 2020 will participate in a virtual celebration on their original graduation date, May 27.

Graduation has been postponed to July 27; guests will gather at McAlister Auditorium for the traditional Newman commencement. Nov. 25 and Dec. 19 are other tentative dates being considered.

There will be an in-person in Countdown Day on Lupin Field on July 26; the class of 2020 and guests will gather in person for a senior reception.

On May 26, the class of 2020 will participate in a virtual move-up day for the upper school. There will also be a virtual awards night during which senior awards are presented.

Louise S. McGehee School (Camille Barnett)

Louise S. McGehee

May Day and Graduation, originally scheduled respectively for May 9 and 21, will now take place on July 30 and August 1. If further postponement is deemed necessary, the ceremonies will take place during winter break.

McGehee recently launched their Pink is Unbreakable campaign with banners around campus, signs in seniors’ yards and a special video.

This week, they will begin a Senior Spotlight campaign where two seniors each weekday will be highlighted on social media. A video from the senior class to the faculty and a reciprocal video from the faculty to the seniors was also shared on social media.

Academy of Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart created and delivered yard signs to their senior students’ front lawns several weeks ago. Earlier this week, they launched “Meet the Class of 2020” which features every senior and a bit of information about where they are headed next and what they’ll miss about their school. Through this website, Sacred Heart invites family, friends and alumnae to leave a note for each senior.

Other plans, which will be communicated directly to the seniors as they’re confirmed, are in development.

Benjamin Franklin High School

A yard sign is delivered to a Franklin senior. (via Facebook)

A virtual ceremony is set to tentatively take place May 27; all annual awards will be honored at the virtual ceremony, and an official program will be made to distribute to seniors.

Graduation has been rescheduled for Aug. 4 (also tentative). If the rescheduled date isn’t possible, the seniors plan to celebrate at a special one-year reunion party.

On March 13, the day Gov. Edwards announced school closings, seniors were able to carry out the tradition of chalking their names on school steps.

They were later surprised by faculty with yard signs in front of their homes. On May 6, seniors drove by the school to retrieve their caps and gowns.

 

The traditional Senior Day at Jesuit High School was celebrated with a drive-thru jambalaya lunch. (via jesuinola.org)

Jesuit High School

Graduation has been rescheduled for July 25.

The class of 2020 celebrated Senior Day with a drive-thru lunch.  The final morning assembly for the class of 2020 was recorded and posted to Facebook along with a special prayer for the seniors given by Jesuit chaplain the Rev. Kevin Dyer.

All other events such as prom have been postponed until administration learns more about what will be permitted after May 15.

St Mary’s Dominican

A virtual Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement is scheduled for May 16. The on-campus Baccalaureate Mass and graduation ceremony have been tentatively scheduled for July 25.

Seniors participated in a drive-thru to pick up their graduation announcements on April 21.

Spirit Week was celebrated at home; students and faculty sent in pictures in themed attire that were posted to social media. In lieu of senior prom, seniors are participating in a prom song bracket competition.

As a tribute to the class of 2020, the Dominican cupola has been lit blue and will remain blue through the end of May, and “A Toast of Praise to Class of 2020” is currently displayed on rotating billboards around the city.

Graduates have also been highlighted with daily social media posts of their senior portraits with quotes.

Cabrini High School

Cabrini graduates are being honored with daily senior highlight posts on social media featuring their future school, major and Cabrini involvement.

Seniors shared photos of college day shirts on social media to continue the tradition of sporting their future school.

The class of 2020 Senior Magazine was published on social media with memories from seniors through the year, and the senior countdown ceremony was streamed on Facebook live and students joined via Zoom.

InspireNOLA charter schools

This week, May 4-8, students from McDonogh 35, Edna Karr and Eleanor McMain are participating in a Virtual Spirit Week. Seniors are encouraged to send in photos in themed attire to be reposted on social media accounts.

A sign on Warren Easton’s Canal Street campus congratulates the seniors. (via Facebook)

Warren Easton Charter School

Warren Easton has set a tentative date for its graduation ceremony for July 24 at the UNO Lakefront Arena, with appropriate precautions in place.

Warren Easton following the tradition of helping its seniors with online Hall of Fame Scholarship Fund, which provides deserving students with funds to bridge the financial gap between other scholarship money and actual cost of paying for college.

St. Augustine High School

On May 20, the original scheduled date for graduation, seniors will take turns driving to the front of the high school to have their picture taken in their caps and gowns.

It will be recorded and streamed online. Social distance protocols will be followed. Graduation and baccalaureate Mass have been tentatively rescheduled for July 8.

On college signing day, esteemed alumni such as Rep. Royce Duplessis (class of 2000), Grammy-awarded musician PJ Morton (class of 1999), and musician and television personality Jon Batiste (class of 2004) recorded and sent in videos with words of encouragement for the class of 2020 that were posted on social media. Seniors also took photos and videos announcing which colleges they plan to attend that were also posted.

Brother Martin High School

Brother Martin’s graduation ceremony has been rescheduled for July 31. They plan to celebrate their Leadership Ceremony and Graduation Mass in the week leading up to the graduation ceremony.

On the seniors’ official last day of school, a video compilation of their portraits was shared to social media with the caption, “Since we can’t be together on your final day, we wanted to recognize all 210 of you… together one last time. We are so incredibly proud to call each of you a #Crusader.”

Senior Class President Emmanuel Levy also put together a highlight reel of the Class of 2020’s best memories that was shared to social media.

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