By Nancy Price
When seniors at Roncalli High School learned they would study remotely before and after Easter break this past spring due to COVID-19, many didn’t mind as they assumed it wouldn’t be long before they would return to class.
“As the quarantined life of e-learning settled in, it became apparent to all how much they missed the daily interactions with their peers and teachers,” said Roncalli Dean of Students Tim Crissman.
As well, once it was announced that students would remain at home until the end of the year, fear took hold. Would there even be the traditional events seniors looked forward to all year – Senior Celebration Day with Mass and an in-person graduation?
A GRADUATION MEANT TO HAPPEN
“It was quite challenging in the spring as one part of your mind kept thinking, ‘OK, this is serious stuff but we will get a handle on it and will be able to get back to having fun and holding events’ while the other part of your mind kept thinking, ‘Is this ever going to get better and it sure does not seem like events such as graduation will be able to happen,’” said Roncalli Principal Chuck Weisenbach.
“The abrupt and chaotic ending of the 2019-2020 school year just wasn’t OK; it just wasn’t how any of us wanted it all to end,” added Kelly Kuntz, college and career counselor. “I also knew the dedicated administrators at Roncalli would not let COVID-19 have the final word on any of this, so I just kept working on (planning for graduation).”
“Tim Crissman and Chuck Weisenbach worked diligently all summer with the administrative team, revising plans to make sure we could have an in-person ceremony,” said Mary Sheets, registrar.
Kim Striby, an English teacher, created the idea of a celebration box for each senior that included awards, recognition certificates, notes from staff and faculty and other sentimental items, along with caps, tassels and cords and medals worn with graduation attire. Boxes were distributed on the original date of graduation via a “drive-through” senior celebration.
In addition, “We couldn’t have each student trying on multiple gowns to find the perfect fit, so a new plan was made to distribute them the night before graduation in one of our gyms, maintaining social distancing, of course,” Kuntz added. “The whole guidance team showed up so we could provide multiple stations for gown distribution.”
KEEPING THINGS TRADITIONAL
With a goal to keep as many details of a traditional graduation ceremony as possible, Kuntz and Sheets worked together to plan a special day for the seniors. “Kelly and I melded our working knowledge of what occurs to pull off a traditional ceremony with what the administrative team was doing,” said Sheets. “We all needed to re-COimagine the graduation ceremonies keeping before us the changing health department requirements and potential bad weather scenarios.”
Kuntz and Sheets created a new plan in exchange for a traditional graduation practice, which involved the use of two gymnasiums and two seating arrangements allowing for social distancing within the gyms and keeping the students in the right order for the procession. “We created laminated name tags to stick to the chairs; in case the procession got jumbled, the graduates would be able to find the right seats, so they stayed in order for the announcement of their names during the ceremony,” Kuntz said.
“For our administrative team and faculty/staff it was more of how to utilize the talents of each of us to help pull off the events,” Crissman said. “Each of us have unique talents that we bring to the table. This combination of talents along with a ‘let’s dig in together to make this happen’ attitude truly made these events possible.”
Despite bad weather and a delayed start on graduation day, each graduate was able to walk across the stage before rain abruptly resumed. “We had two students unable to attend graduation because they had to report to military academy or boot camp before July 21,” said Kuntz. “When their names were announced the entire class gave a standing ovation unprompted by any administration, faculty, or staff members. It was a moment I will never forget. They all knew the storm was coming in fast. They knew we needed to get through those names quickly in order for everyone there to get across that stage before the lightning forced us to call it. But they wanted to recognize the sacrifice those two classmates were making for our country and support them the only way they could at that moment. They showed what it means to be a member of the Roncalli family right then.”