Thirteen years of education will soon wrap up for Healdsburg seniors and while the graduating class of 2020 may not be able to have a physical graduation celebration and all of the activities that come with it, such as prom, several committees at Healdsburg High School are working to create alternatives for celebrating this year’s graduates.

A graduation committee comprised of administrators and staff is working on organizing a virtual graduation ceremony set for June 4. A prom committee is exploring the idea of a virtual prom, another committee is working to create a gift pack for students, and the high school’s work-based learning coordinator, Shelley Anderson, is planning a virtual scholarship award night for seniors.

“There are several (committees). The first one is coordinated between myself, John Chevalier our digital film teacher, some students and Connie Marx, our assistant principal, and we are putting together a virtual graduation with video, music and speeches and we’ll have student speakers and we’ll be announcing all of the names. Basically that will be our graduation ceremony,” said Healdsburg High School Principal, Bill Halliday.

He said they are planning to post it on YouTube on June 4 at 7 p.m.

“We want to both celebrate and honor the kids,” he said.

“The second thing we are doing is there is a committee developing a celebratory gift packet for the students that is going to come from the teachers and the administrators and the counselors ... We have a variety of things that we will be giving to all of the seniors when they receive their diplomas and their sashes,” Halliday said.

The gift packets will be paid for with the school’s internal funding.

While there may not be a lot of interest in a virtual prom, a group of students is spearheading an effort to explore alternatives to prom.

“But not that surprisingly there is not a lot of interest there,” Halliday said.

Despite the lukewarm response from a student survey, Halliday said the committee is plugging away at a possible plan.

“I understand that,” he said. “We all feel so sad and frustrated about not being able to celebrate our graduates in the way that we’d like to.”

During the April 15 Healdsburg Unified School District School Board Meeting, Healdsburg Unified School District Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel shared a letter written by student trustee Alejandro Dominguez. The letter echoed Halliday’s thoughts.

“Seniors have indeed lost a great deal, their senior trip, grad night, prom and graduation. These are once in a lifetime events that most, if not all on the board have experienced … The worst part about this situation is the lack of control anyone has on it, although we can try to fix and adjust the situation we are in,” Dominguez wrote.

In an effort to further celebrate seniors, the high school is partnering with the city of Healdsburg and Healdsburg Signs to create various congratulatory banners, which will be placed around town.

Healdsburg Signs will be donating a large banner that will be hung at Recreation Park. The banner will have all of the graduate’s portraits on it with a big “Congratulations.”

In addition, “Using some of our funds, we are going to be hanging all of the students' portraits from the light posts in town. We can thank Wesley Hunt for that idea and we talked with the city and they said they’d love that,” Halliday said.

For the scholarship award night, which was scheduled for May 18, Anderson is working on creating a virtual awards night.

“It will probably be filmed with speeches and those types of things and all of the students will receive their dollar amounts and where they were awarded different scholarships,” Halliday said. “The last group is the project graduation parent group that has raised a lot of money over the years and they are trying to decide what to do. They may have some of their events later when the social distancing is relaxed.”

Next steps

When asked if the school might consider holding a physical graduation ceremony when the shelter-in-place order is lifted and social distancing is relaxed, Halliday said it could be something they could look into.

“A lot of our students graduate and they stay here, work and go to the Santa Rosa Junior College. A lot of our kids go to Sonoma State, or to Bay Area schools and so it would be curious to see if we get more relaxed next fall, to see how many students would be interested in coming back and having families be able to do that. I think that would be something interesting to look into, but really unpredictable,” Halliday said.

In terms of cap and gown pickup for the June 4 virtual graduation, Halliday said they are still trying to figure out how they will safely distribute those items.

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