Metro Detroit districts prepare for in-person graduation ceremonies

Posted at 5:43 AM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 06:59:34-04

(WXYZ) — As high school seniors across metro Detroit prepare to mark a major milestone, districts are planning COVID-19-friendly ceremonies in June.

Last year, districts performed drive-up and virtual commencements, but this year, Lansing lawmakers are trying to get things back to normal by exempting graduations from capacity limits.

"We're extremely grateful that we can have some type of in-person graduation," Novi High School senior class president Leah George said.

She remembers watching last year's ceremony, which was virtual

"They just got to read the names online, and everyone just graduated online and there wasn't really a final moment to say goodbye to anyone," she said. "So the fact that we got to even have an opportunity, even if it's just a third of our class at a time to go and say bye and see even some of our friends cross the stage, I'm really grateful for that. I know a bunch of my friends are also grateful for that opportunity."

Novi Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Matthews notes a mix of excitement and disappointment among seniors. Excitement because this year's commencement is slated to be better than the drive-up ceremony in 2020, but not traditional like in years past.

"We're going to have three separate ceremonies. Each graduate will be able to invite four people to attend the ceremony," he said.

Guests will be seated in the stands, socially distant from one another. The same goes for graduates on the field.

In Lansing, the Republican-led State Senate just approved a bill to exempt high school graduations from capacity limits. The governor could veto it.

West Bloomfield High School Principal Eric Page said his district is following Oakland County Health Department Guidelines, which he said are often stricter than the CDC.

"There's kind of a break-even point where it no longer becomes safe the more people that you have," Page said.

He said graduation usually takes place at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, but since it's indoors, the school's stadium will have to do.

"We have 409 graduates, and in order to get two guests per graduate we're going to do two separate ceremonies," Page added.

He said it's tough balancing adequate safety and a variety of expectations.

"You know, I have a lot of conversations with parents that question some of the decisions that are made, and I don't want to ever put a family in a position, feel like they're compromising their safety or the safety of their families, you know to get something that we've always traditionally done," he said. "I really want everybody to feel safe and comfortable but still what they deserve in terms of recognition."

Utica Schools, the second-largest in the state, said it is considering several scenarios for its 2,200 graduates. Either one or two ceremonies at each school, a drive-up option or a full virtual ceremony.

Some of it depends on whether the state changes guidelines.

Farmington is holding two ceremonies and will allow three guests per graduate.

Rochester is having three ceremonies and will allow up to four guests per graduate.

Detroit Public Schools Community District said tickets for each graduate are based on class size and venue size.

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