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.”
Some Catholic colleges in Chicago will hold virtual commencement ceremonies for the second straight year, after determining that it would not be possible to accommodate their graduates, family members and other loved ones for traditional graduation exercises.
“We normally have 55,000 people over graduation weekend,” said Robert Karpinski, DePaul University’s associate vice president for academic and library affairs.
This year, in addition to being invited to view the virtual ceremonies, graduates have been invited to participate in the “graduation experience,” in which they can sign up for a time to have their picture taken walking across a stage with a diploma cover — in cap and gown, if they choose — and with two invited guests between May 19 and 28.
“Students were missing that cathartic experience of putting on their cap and gown, walking across the state, getting a diploma, getting that picture taken,” Karpinski said. “We knew we had to do the virtual ceremonies, so we had do plan some kind of cathartic experience.”
At Loyola University Chicago, whose graduations normally draw about 25,000 people, the thinking was similar. Most years, the senior toast night, which culminates with a walk through the Cudahy doors at the Cudahy Library, is a big deal, said Margaret DiMarco, associate director of projects and operations in the Office of the Provost.
This year, the doors have been opened for seniors to pass through until May 15, and they can have their picture taken by a professional photographer.
Both schools are also sending packages of graduation swag to their graduates, and inviting those who can come to campus to take pictures at various “Instagrammable” locations.
“These are all experiences that will ceremonialize this moment of their lives, transitioning to their post-commencement lives,” Karpinski said.
DiMarco said that Loyola looked at options including 40 days of small group ceremonies before determining that it could not have an in-person graduation this year.
“It’s honestly pretty heartbreaking,” she said. “It is truly the most special time on campus. The fact that we haven’t been able to do that for two years is really sad.”
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.
Under the gaze of a seventh-century icon of Mary, Pope Francis launched a monthlong, global recitation of the rosary, pleading for Mary’s intercession for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Student representatives from 25 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago came together to address racial inequities in response to last summer’s murder of George Floyd and its aftermath.
Leaders of religious communities have a role to play in encouraging members of their congregations to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and in building a more just, equitable society where members of all faiths and none are recognized as members of the common human family.