Planning for graduation ceremonies

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Planning for graduation ceremonies

While planning for graduation ceremonies in the time of COVID-19, Catholic high schools in the archdiocese held drive-thru events where students could pick up graduation materials and see teachers and staff. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Teachers and staff cheer as students make their way through a drive-thru to pick up their caps and gowns. This year, in response to the unique challenges posed by COVID-19 and social distancing requirements, senior students at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights received their caps and gowns in a drive-through pick-up at the school on May 2, 2020. Students received staggered time slots for their pick-up in order to maintain safe social distancing. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Steve Tortorello, principal of Marian Catholic, places a cap and gown in the trunk of a student’s car. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Senior Morgan Mroz holds up a sign while waiting to pick up her care package at Mother McAuley High School. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mother McAuley High School, 3737 W. 99th St., held a campus car parade to celebrate the class of 2020 on May 8. During the parade, students picked up care packages from the school and signs to put on their family's lawns. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mother McAuley teachers and staff place care packages in the trunks of students' cars. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
People cheer on the students. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mark Szczepkowski, chair of Nazareth Academy’s religion department, waves to students as they dropped off non-perishable food items at the school’s campus in LaGrange on May 7 during a drive-thru food drive. The items were donated to local food pantries for distribution during the pandemic. The event was part of the school's annual Circle the City Day of Service. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A Nazareth student reacts to seeing faculty. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Nazareth Academy principal Therese Hawkins, alum Patrick Uphues and president Deborah Vondrasek Tracy carry donations students dropped off in the drive-thru. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

“Pomp and Circumstance” will not be playing this May for graduates of area Catholic high schools and colleges, all of which have had to cancel or postpone plans for graduation ceremonies and other traditional end-of-year events.

With Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order in effect until at least May 30, many area high schools are looking to July in the hope of being able to host in-person ceremonies, although those might have to be more limited in attendance than usual if they are allowed to go on at all.

“When the stay-at-home order went into effect, we realized we’d have to postpone graduation, which was scheduled for May 13,” said Meg Gardner, upperclass dean for Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, 3737 W. 99th St. “But then we realized that even if we did it later, we wouldn’t be able to gather the same number of people.”

The original plan was to hold the ceremony on the campus of Saint Xavier University, where the 250 graduates and eight guests each could be accommodated. Instead, Gardner said, the high school hopes to have a scaled-back ceremony July 18.

That would be the culmination of three days of activities with a commemorative last day of school and senior Academy Awards, a McAuley tradition, on July 16, and prom on the McAuley campus instead of a downtown hotel on July 17.

The school also planned Mac at School Again, a drive-thru senior car parade, where graduating seniors could drive through the parking lot to wave at teachers and staff and to receive yard signs and other items. Those plans were  scaled back from an earlier version.

Gardner said everyone understands that nothing is set in stone at the moment. The school just wants to provide this year’s graduates with a chance to say good-bye to their teachers and classmates before they move on to the next phase of their lives.

“It’s the sense of community,” Gardner said. “It’s the relationships they have with their teachers. Zooms are great and the best we can do right now, but they miss our sense of family at Mother McAuley, our sense of faith.”

Other schools are in the same boat. Brother Rice High School, 10001 S. Pulaski Road, will pick a date in July, probably July 12, said principal Robert Alberts. Graduation will be that day, either in-person or virtual, as circumstances allow, he said, and prom will likely be canceled.

De La Salle Institute, 3434 S. Michigan Ave., will also try to do an in-person ceremony in July at the request of the senior class.

“It is their desire and hope to be able to join together one last time as a class before heading off to college,” said Michael Walsh, the school’s communications coordinator, in an email. “Of course, they acknowledged the need for proper social distancing to accomplish this celebration of achievement. Diane Brown, principal of De La Salle, wishes to honor the class of 2020 for their flexibility and sacrifices during this pandemic and commends them for completing their academic year through our remote learning platform.”

At Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, administrators have planned both a virtual recognition event on May 18, the original date of graduation, and hope to hold an in-person graduation on July 26 if possible.

“We believe there is something powerful and meaningful in the sacred act of praying over our students’ diplomas, physically handing them to each student and shaking their hands, and watching them physically cross a stage,” Principal Steve Tortorello wrote in a letter to seniors and their families. “We think that this moment is truly special for our students and families, so we want to protect it as much as we can. For that reason, we do not want to forego a physical formal ceremony if we are able to hold one.”


  • catholic schools
  • graduation
  • coronavirus

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