By Caroline Rice
As Alabama has begun to reopen, many high schools are or have held in-person graduation ceremonies.
Spain Park High School and Hoover High School held graduation ceremonies at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex last Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Both of those ceremonies sparked controversy. The systems applied safety guidelines to the events such as spacing out people and asking them to wear masks.
Hoover City Schools emphasized that the graduation ceremonies were optional and urged people who didn’t feel safe not to attend. The system also offered a personalized ceremony option for students who were immunocompromised and could not attend the in-person ceremony. However, most seniors did attend the ceremony.
At the graduation ceremonies, the Hoover Met was staffed with event workers who enforced social distancing and rules that guests wear masks. If a guest was not wearing a mask, they were denied entry into the ceremony.
Each senior was limited to four guests so that social distancing could be practiced in the stadium. Families sat together but six feet apart from other groups.
When each senior arrived at graduation, they were given a mask and hand sanitizer before they went to sit in their seat. Graduating seniors were spaced out six feet apart when they were sitting and getting their diplomas. But afterward some gathered in clusters to hug and take selfies, according to multiple news reports.
Juan Luis Contreras, a senior at Spain Park High School, said that, while he was excited for graduation, he would have rather had the ceremony in June or July.
“I think most of the seniors agree that we should have a graduation at some point. The seniors didn’t feel like the last day of high school was really the last, and graduation is the only thing we have left to close this chapter of life,” said Contreras.
But Contreras didn’t think it was wise to hold a ceremony when the number of cases is still rising in Alabama.
“If our graduation that we wanted caused an outbreak, we would all feel so bad,” said Contreras.
Contreras and his family planned to attend graduation in masks and other personal protective gear.
Erin Warren, SGA president of Spain Park High School, said that she was excited to have a ceremony because the students didn’t think they would get one at all.
“Our principal said that everything is so unknown. We could have one later in the summer that is a little safer, but it would be taking a risk, because another wave could come by then,” Warren said.
The SGA at Spain Park had been doing virtual spirit weeks on the school’s Instagram page to make students feel more connected while they were apart from each other. Students sent in pictures from their prom at home to be posted on Instagram, as well.
“I feel like Hoover City Schools has gotten a lot of negative attention from this decision,” to have graduation, Warren said. “It is a tough decision, and they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity since we have it. It’s not going to be perfect for everyone, but they want to accommodate as many as possible.”
Some other schools around the Birmingham area are hosting graduation ceremonies, as well.
Students at Vestavia Hills High School were given the option of an in-person, traditional graduation in their stadium or an individualized graduation ceremony. Vestavia’s traditional graduation was held May 19.
Vestavia limited the capacity in the stadium to comply with the state’s guidelines on social gatherings. Each senior received two tickets for guests.
Mountain Brook High School will have a graduation ceremony June 5 at 7 p.m. at its stadium.
Homewood High School held individual commencements for the Class of 2020 in the auditorium at Homewood High School. The modified graduation event occurred the week of May 18-22. Graduates and their relatives scheduled their individual graduation ceremonies, during which graduates’ names were called and they walked across the auditorium stage to receive their diplomas.
Oak Mountain High School plans a graduation ceremony for June 1 at 7 p.m. at Heardmont Stadium. Graduates will receive four guest tickets each.
The Altamont School’s May 21 graduation date was postponed, with the rescheduled date to be announced.
Briarwood Christian School will host its graduation ceremony on July 19, beginning at 3 p.m. at Briarwood Presbyterian Church.
Rather than host a graduation ceremony for its students, the Indian Springs School honored its graduating seniors with Operation Swan Drop.
Large, inflatable swan floats, a nod to the school’s mascot, were dropped off in the front yards of graduating seniors homes, as well as outside of the dorm doors of boarding students.
John Carroll Catholic High School will host its graduation ceremony at the JCCHS stadium on May 30, beginning at 2 p.m.