High schools prepare for in-person graduations

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Photo illustration (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Some Chicago-area Catholic high schools are renting professional sports venues for graduation this year, and others will use their own outdoor fields. Others are carefully planning how to arrange the graduates in indoor spaces, often with the ceremony livestreamed to family members elsewhere.

Whatever it takes, school leaders said, this year’s senior classes will have graduation ceremonies, and they will go through them together.

Marist High School, 4200 W. 115th St., will gather its graduating class and guests May 21 at Soldier Field, said Marist Principal Kathryn Baal. The large venue will allow the 377 seniors to each invite six guests, something that would not be possible at Marist’s athletic stadium, under state and local public health guidelines.

“Our kids have been separated into an A and a B group all year,” Baal said, with the groups attending school in-person on alternating days. “They haven’t been together as a class since March 12, 2020.”

When the school surveyed the seniors to find out what they wanted from a graduation ceremony, “their No. 1 priority was to be together,” Baal said. “They want to be with their friends and they want to be with the people who shaped them throughout their four years of high school.”

The ceremony also will allow students to gather with the entire faculty.

“Part of graduation is closure, and that closure involves everyone,” Baal said.

The Soldier Field ceremony means that this will be the first class to not graduate at school. However, other end-of-the-year activities, including the baccalaureate Mass and prom, have been moved to Marist’s campus, where attendees at the Mass can be seated in different rooms to watch the Mass being celebrated in the chapel and promgoers can dine on the school grounds in pods.

“This does make it kind of special,” Baal said.

At De La Salle Institute, 3434 S. Michigan Ave., the 191 seniors began attending in-person classes every day after spring break, while the rest of the school remains on an alternating day schedule, according to principal Thomas Schoergen.

Seniors will graduate from the school’s athletic stadium, each with two guests in the audience, on May 19, unless it rains. Then graduation will be postponed until May 21; if it rains that day, too, the school can move graduation into the activity center, but only for graduates and staff. The audience will have to watch via livestream.

“I think you can safely say that if it looks like rain, we’ll be looking for a window when we can get it in outside,” Schoergen said.

Graduation will be one of the high points of a senior week that will also include an awards presentation, a trip to Six Flags Great America and prom.

“We wanted to give our seniors some sort of an experience to end their high school careers at De La Salle,” Schoergen said. “Last year’s senior class, they missed the last two months of their senior year. This year’s class, in some ways, they’ve missed their whole senior year. You don’t realize how many of these kids have not seen each other in such a long time. I think it’s affected them in a major way, in social and emotional ways. That’s not even getting into the academic stuff.”

DePaul College Prep, 3300 N. Campbell Ave., moved into a new campus that includes a new outdoor sports stadium this year, and the school will use that stadium for graduation, although the ceremony is expected to be livestreamed as well, Principal Megan Stanton-Anderson wrote in an email.

“Our plans are to hold a socially distanced, masked, outdoor graduation in our stadium,” Stanton-Anderson said. “We will likely live stream this for family members who are not able to attend due to restrictions on the number of guests we can allow. … We feel our seniors and their families deserve as close to a traditional graduation as we can safely provide.”

St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights will hold its graduation at Arlington International Racecourse, and its baccalaureate Mass at Wintrust Field, the stadium where the Schaumburg Boomers play.

“I think, first of all, it’s important for parents to see their child walk across the stage and get a handshake and a diploma,” said Jim Mitchell, marketing and communications specialist. “I think it’s important for students to celebrate together, even in normal times, all they’ve achieved in four years.”

Resurrection High School, 7500 W. Talcott Ave., will hold graduation outdoors on its campus, although administrators are discussing whether it would be better to use the athletic fields or parking lots — a decision that could depend on the weather.

Regina Dominican’s senior girls will also graduate from their school’s campus, most likely outdoors with parents and guardians present, said Eleanor Schmerler-Rich, the school’s vice president of growth.

“Our current senior class has missed out on some really loved traditions,” Schmerler-Rich said. “Having graduation really ties together their experiences over the last four years, and being able to do that as a class is important for our girls.”

Some schools, including Holy Trinity High School, 1443 W. Division St., will have indoor graduations. Holy Trinity will use the neighboring Holy Trinity Church and limit in-person attendance to graduates and staff, with families watching online, said Charles Jefferson, the director of marketing and communications.


  • graduation
  • catholic schools week
  • covid-19
  • high schools

Related Articles