2020 Graduation: An exercise in resiliency and creativity

Graduation is arguably the biggest moment for a high school student – the culmination of all the hard work, a rite of passage and one of life’s most celebrated occasions. 

By Jeremy Myer, Colorado Department of Education | May 6, 2020

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Signs for class of 2020


We continue to receive queries from districts, schools and the communities on how to safely honor high school graduates. The Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have put together guidance for planning graduation ceremonies, and in this blog we share some examples of creative solutions schools and districts have found to give the class of 2020 a memorable closing to their high school years.

Innovative ways to celebrate graduating seniors

Some schools and districts are focusing on how to celebrate graduating seniors. Here are some examples:

  • Westminster Public Schools recorded speeches remotely for a virtual ceremony. Graduate names will be read, and students will record themselves singing the national anthem. The district will stream the video to families on the previously scheduled graduation date.

  • Eagle County School District is working with the Vail Daily to help recognize seniors in the newspaper and will also recognize seniors on social media channels.

  • Denver School of Science & Technology asked students to submit their "announcement selfies" with pennants or signs with their future plans; then, if they want, students can tag DSST, and the school will post their information on social media. 

  • Park County Schools hired a videographer to professionally record speeches and compile a graduation video. The district is hosting a car parade through town on the actual graduation day led by local law enforcement. 

  • Weld County RE-4: Windsor High School will conduct a mobile procession for seniors that will include professional graduation photos of each graduate.

  • Many schools across the state are making yard signs and posting those in students’ front yards. Broomfield High School in the Boulder Valley School District made yard signs with the names of each senior.

Graduation Ceremony Guidelines

The cancelation of traditional graduation ceremonies can be yet another disappointing loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Many people – graduates, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends – are affected by the fact that our end-of-school traditions have been disrupted. But health concerns are too great for the typical graduation ceremony to occur.

Communities and schools should work closely with their local public health agency on plans for graduation ceremonies that work for their local community while keeping everyone safe. 

  • Gatherings larger than 10 people are not permitted.

  • Vulnerable people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and sick people must remain at home.

  • All participants should be screened for fever and symptoms before entering the gathering.

  • All participants, including graduates, administrators, guests or family members, must always remain at least six feet apart.

  • Six-foot sections should be marked on the floor. Use small flags, tape, balloons, etc. to indicate the distance.

  • To comply with the six-foot spacing, handshaking and hugs should not occur.

  • If chairs are provided, they must be disinfected before and after use by school staff using proper protocol.

  • All participants must always wear cloth face coverings.

  • Ceremonies must be held outside.

  • Inside ceremonies cannot occur.

  • Diplomas, awards, medals, programs, etc. must not be handed out.

  • Sharing or exchanging materials of any kind poses an increased risk for transmission/spread of COVID-19 and must not occur. (Throwing graduation caps, “Sign-in” practices, gifts, flowers, etc).

Ideas for alternative graduation ceremonies

We understand the importance of human connections, especially during these stressful times, and that honoring graduates with families and community members adds meaning. Below are some ideas that may be feasible depending on your local context. All events must comply with state and local public health orders.

  • Districts are hosting virtual graduation ceremonies, in which the staff films speeches, dedications and other festivities and students add videos. 

  • Video recordings of a live ceremony involving fewer than 10 graduates could be broadcast on local public access television, local radio or streamed for families on Facebook Live or YouTube.

  • Small communities are planning “Car Parades” with support from the local health department and police.

  • Drive-in graduations could be held at drive-in movie theaters, where families and graduates stay in cars for the ceremonies.

  • Very small communities with only a few graduates may be able to hold ceremonies on football fields or other outdoor locations. Outdoor ceremonies could feature graduates walking on a stage with their families watching in their cars and listening to the event via local radio.

  • Some districts are delaying their ceremonies. However, postponing ceremonies could be challenging because of the evolving nature of COVID-19 and that circumstances may not change much over the next few months, which could lead to additional disappointment if mass gathering restrictions are still in place.

Don’t forget about emotional support

Even if the ceremony will not be the same, it is still important to recognize the accomplishment. Take this time to create your own family’s ceremony. Commemorate the great achievement of your graduate and mark this important step in his or her journey.

At the same time, recognize that people may be grieving about this loss. Grief can manifest as a wide range of emotions: sadness, frustration, disappointment. How someone grieves is very personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is not a contest. Teens should give themselves permission to grieve and remember they have a right to experience their feelings. It is also important to remember that some people may not be ready to grieve yet, so allow everyone the space and time they may need.