Standing in front of empty bleachers, seniors and the Northeast High principal spoke to the graduating class in a pre-recorded video, kicking off the start of digital ceremonies for Anne Arundel County public schools.
Traditionally, county high schools hold commencement ceremonies on football fields or at Live! Casino and Hotel, but this year because of health regulations to slow down the spread of coronavirus, the school system moved graduation online.
“Our main goal is to highlight the students as much as we can and use them in all facets,” Principal Jason Williams said in an interview before the graduation.
“We highlight our kids as much as possible.”
In the graduation video, photos of students dressed up for dances, in costumes for Spirit Week and posed in sports uniforms were put together in a slideshow in an effort to include the graduating class of 2020 at the high school. Students also sang and performed in the school’s orchestra.
Student speakers stood the appropriate social distance away from one another as they introduced school board members including Terry Gilleland and Robert Leib.
The summa cum laude speaker Abigail Ward spoke to her class saying the seniors had “grit, resilience and heart.”
“I started off my speech talking about the resiliency of the class of 2020,” Ward said in an interview.
“I was talking about how well we stepped up to the challenge and how it will reflect in our futures.”
During her speech, Ward talked about the welcoming atmosphere at the school and her experiences trying multiple clubs and activities.
Ward, who will attend the Naval Academy, said though she was disappointed seniors were not going to have the traditional graduation, she still appreciated the efforts put forth by the school.
“It is disappointing that it is not live because it is special,” she said. “It is nice they are doing something to recognize seniors.”
She said she preferred not to wear her cap and gown, as she had done in the prerecorded video, while watching the ceremony from home.
“I totally understand some will want to wear their cap and gown but for me it seems like making up for something. But you can’t really recreate this experience,” she said.
Williams echoed a similar sentiment to Ward’s speech on resiliency, as he talked about the graduating class.
“They were born during the year or the year surrounding 9/11 and they are graduating or launching into the major phase of their life during a global pandemic that I – in my lifetime – have never experienced,” Williams said.
“Those are pretty significant bookends to their lives.”
For the parents of graduating seniors like Stephanie Ruff, some had to watch the videos while at work on Friday morning.
“I know the parents watched it but most of them are at work also because Monday is when they’re taking off to go watch them get their diplomas,” Ruff said, referencing the diploma pick up that starts next week.
Overall, she said watching the ceremony online did not leave her feeling much though she understood the video was the best the school could offer.
“I know they are stuck and there is only so much they can do. I guess I’ve seen other schools have done a lot more and I wish our schools did too,” she said.
But Ruff said she is looking forward to the community-based events she has begun coordinating to celebrate Northeast High seniors, including prom and graduation.
In response to the pandemic, the school system had announced a shift to online for celebration plans for the graduating class. Before the Northeast High ceremony began, Superintendent George Arlotto spoke to the seniors as well.
“This has not been a year like any other, and it is certainly not the year you and your families envisioned from the day you walked into school in September or when you began your careers 12 years ago," he said.
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“This has been a difficult end to the school year, and we all realize that,” Arlotto said before thanking the students for working through the end of the school year challenges.
Some of the county’s largest private schools have also held ceremonies online.
St. Mary’s held an online ceremony May 21 with the video uploaded to YouTube and plans on holding an outdoor event, pending county guidelines, according to the school spokeswoman.
Indian Creek will hold two graduation events, an online ceremony Saturday and a diploma ceremony on campus, beginning on Monday, according to a school spokeswoman. Key School will hold a ceremony June 5.
Severn School held an on-campus graduation for students and small gatherings to attend and take photos.