Kealakehe High School has come up with a unique commencement — consisting of two parts, virtual and vehicle procession — to celebrate graduates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the virtual component, the Big Island’s largest high school will pre-record a video recognizing each graduate using their senior portrait, a speech by principal Glenn Gray, announcement of scholarship winners, valedictorians, most outstanding and most charitable students and speeches. The video will be broadcast on the school’s website the evening of May 21.
The following day, from noon until 3:15 p.m. at the Kailua-Kona high school, graduates will arrive in their vehicle, dressed in cap and gown, be announced and awarded their diploma while observing social distancing. Once students receive their diploma, they will proceed to turn their tassel, with their families, and have a picture taken.
Only one car per student is permitted, and the event is not open to the public, according to Young.
The plan follows the state Department of Education earlier this month announcing “alternative celebrations” would take the place of traditional commencement ceremonies during the pandemic.
Student Activities Coordinator James Young said Kealakehe High School’s administration, security, teachers, parents and student government came together to formulate the plan.
“While families are disappointed we are not able to celebrate the traditional way, they have been very supportive and understanding; feedback has been relatively positive,” Young said. “Please know that we are just as disappointed that we can’t honor our graduates in the way we’ve honored past classes. Our school, however, feels this plan gives our graduates the best possible commencement ceremony while complying with all state and county mandates.”
He said the school is planning some sort of activity for graduates once the world situation stabilizes.
“What this event will look like and when it will be held is mostly unknown at this time, but we promise it will be something special,” he said.
Konawaena High School had not responded about its commencement plans as of press-time Wednesday. Private schools are also working on virtual graduation plans.
Meanwhile, East Hawaii high schools are still working to finalize graduation plans.
Waiakea High School is in preliminary planning stages for a drive-through ceremony for graduates at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 23, followed by a “virtual” video ceremony at 6 p.m.
Hilo High School and Honokaa High School are planning similar ceremonies.
Plans were still being finalized as of Wednesday, but Hilo High School principal Jasmine Urasaki said a “graduate drive-through” will take place from 3-5 p.m. May 22, followed by a commencement video that will be streamed at 7 p.m.
At Honokaa High, which is also finalizing its plans, principal Rachelle Matsumura said there will be two ceremonies: one held via video from the school library at 7 p.m. Friday, May 22, and a drive-through diploma pickup at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 23.
Dean Cevallos, principal at Keaau High School, said several plans have been discussed, but his school is still unsure of what the program will look like until final guidelines from state and federal officials are determined.
Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporter Stephanie Salmons contributed to this report.