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Harford schools announce ‘in-person, individual commencement experience’ for its graduates in June

Harford County Public Schools' graduating seniors will be invited to return to their high school for an "in-person, individual commencement experience" in June, Superintendent Sean Bulson announced Wednesday.

"As I’ve shared previously, a team of dedicated individuals, including both students and school leaders, have been working to ensure the 2,700 HCPS seniors graduating this year, will have the opportunity to walk across their school stage while their family watches this momentous occasion," Bulson said in video sent to parents of the Class of 2020.

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Bulson previously announced graduations would be held between June 8 and June 12. Previously, graduation ceremonies had been scheduled for May 22 through May 28.

Jillian Lader, a spokesperson for HCPS, clarified that graduates would be allowed into their respective schools one at a time to walk across the stage of the schools’ auditorium and receive their diploma.

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Family members will be allowed into the school as well and will be able to take photos and videos of their student, she said, but specifics will be worked out with the individual schools regarding how many family members can be present and other details.

Depending on class sizes, the individual graduation celebrations may span several days at some high schools, she said.

Individual high schools will be communicating directly with their seniors about details related to their specific graduation activities, including appointment times for each graduate, Bulson said.

"We know that senior year is very important to our students and families. It’s the culmination of years of work; hours spent on learning, making lifelong friends, and planning for your future," he said. "We visualize the start of that future as what comes after you walk across the stage and receive your diploma."

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Christian Walker, a senior at C. Milton Wright High School and the student representative on Harford County’s Board of Education, said what Bulson announced was the best possible situation given the legal and health circumstances, and was preferable to only having a virtual ceremony.

“If it was up to students, we would rewind about three months and reset everything that has happened and have our normal ceremony where we get to cross the stage in front of our families and friends, and celebrate and see all our teachers one last time,” said Walker, who had been leading a task force of students discussing possibilities for graduation ceremonies.

"But, you know, it’s the nature of the situation. Being on those calls, I can tell you that if there was a scenario or a graduation option someone has seen on social media, we probably talked about it and considered it. What we came out to is, what I’m confident is the best possible thing that we can do.

"Every school district in Maryland is under the same pressure, facing the same challenges, and what we did here in Harford County, as the student representative, I’m proud of, again, given the circumstances.”

Feedback since Bulson’s announcement has been varied, Walker said Thursday, which was expected.

“I know there is different reactions from excitement to sadness and disappointment and just about everything in between,” he said. “What I really hope is that students and parents and everyone else in the community is able to band together and turn a negative situation into a positive, and really a memory for our students. For the students, this is a lifetime milestone, and I think it’s important to celebrate that in any way we can.”

In-person experiences will adhere to the governor’s executive orders for social distancing and gatherings and all safety measures will be taken into consideration, Bulson said.

“In addition to your in-person experience, we want to continue celebrating our seniors as a class; you have been through something together unlike any other graduating class in history,” he said in the video. “We are so proud of each of you and look forward to a time when we can see everyone in person."

At 5 p.m. June 8, each high school will release a digital commencement ceremony that will include messages from community members and highlight each of the seniors' accomplishments and plans for the future.

Seniors in HCPS magnet and signature programs will also be recognized in special video programs from May 21 to 28, Bulson said.

Video programs will be released to celebrate the four years of hard work and the research conducted by students for their capstone projects, the school system announced in a news release. The ceremonies will be recorded so viewers may watch them online at their convenience on the HCPS YouTube channel and will be shared via the HCPS website, hcps.org and social media platforms.

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