Catholic high school graduations go virtual or reschedule for summer

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Lauryn Johnson, ASB president and a senior at Pope John Paul II High School in Lacey, designed this banner with the school’s pandemic-era motto. Seniors took individual photos with the banner during a May 20 “Light It Up for Seniors” event. Photo: Courtesy Pope John Paul II High School Lauryn Johnson, ASB president and a senior at Pope John Paul II High School in Lacey, designed this banner with the school’s pandemic-era motto. Seniors took individual photos with the banner during a May 20 “Light It Up for Seniors” event. Photo: Courtesy Pope John Paul II High School

The last weeks of high school didn’t turn out as the class of 2020 expected, but some Catholic high school seniors may still get in-person graduation ceremonies later this summer if COVID-19 restrictions ease.

Some schools, including Holy Names Academy in Seattle, have gone virtual with their graduation ceremonies, while others, such as Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School, are doing a virtual ceremony now and hope to host an in-person one later.

“It’s not quite what we’ve expected. We’re trying to roll with the punches,” said Quinn Mackay, a Blanchet senior who attends Holy Rosary Parish in West Seattle and plans to attend the University of Notre Dame this fall.

Getting creative to honor seniors

To help make the end of senior year special in challenging times, the archdiocese’s Catholic high schools developed virtual versions of traditional activities, used social media to honor seniors and scheduled drive-by events for students to pick up their caps and gowns, awards and graduation yard signs.

“We’re trying to replicate a normal year in as many ways as possible,” said Julie Gallaudet, Blanchet’s director of marketing and communications. During Blanchet’s Tradition Week, for example, students organized a series of online competitions — coolest dunk and best lip-sync, rap or stand-up comedy, Mackay said.

For its seniors, Seattle Preparatory School’s virtual events included Olympic Week competitions, Art Week to showcase student portfolios and a goodbye assembly.

At Sammamish’s Eastside Catholic High School, faculty lined the road and cheered its 163 seniors as they drove into campus to pick up their caps and gowns. “We’re just excited to celebrate our students in any way we can,” said Karen Hatch, the school’s marketing and communications director.

In early May, the 20 graduating seniors at Pope John Paul II High School in Lacey were celebrated with a “Light It Up for Seniors” night at nearby St. Martin’s University. Students drove up and took individual photos next to a banner bearing the school’s pandemic-era motto — “No distance is too great for an Eagle” — which was designed by ASB president and senior Lauryn Johnson.

At Everett’s Archbishop Murphy High School, the ASB leadership and class officers have been working hard to keep everyone connected during the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions, said Principal Alicia Mitchell.

“They’re taking care of each other and doing the best they can,” she said.

Ceremonies now and later

A Holy Names Academy student tosses her mortarboard to celebrate graduation. The Seattle high school had a virtual commencement May 27, concluding with a video/photo montage of students doing the traditional cap toss at the conclusion. Photo: Courtesy Holy Names Academy

Holy Names Academy celebrated virtual commencement on May 27, a ceremony that included speakers and a prerecorded photo/video montage of seniors doing the traditional toss of the mortarboard.

On June 5, seniors at Archbishop Murphy and Blanchet will participate in virtual graduation ceremonies. Archbishop Murphy seniors will receive their diplomas in drive-by fashion in the school’s parking lot, followed by a virtual commencement ceremony that evening to hear speeches from the top graduates and school staff, the principal said.

JPII has a ceremony planned for June 27, with the details still being worked out, said Megan Farrell, the school’s advancement director.

Besides its virtual ceremony, Blanchet has tentative plans for an in-person commencement August 6, and senior prom on August 7, said Gallaudet, the communications director.

Like Blanchet, other Catholic high schools in the archdiocese are hoping that the state will allow large gatherings by early August, and have set tentative dates for in-person commencement ceremonies: August 1 for Tacoma’s Bellarmine Preparatory High School, Vancouver’s Seton Catholic College Prep and Eastside Catholic; and August 5 for O’Dea (which hosted a May 27 virtual celebration for its 111 graduating seniors, said Amanda Stevenson, the school’s marketing and communications director).

Eastside Catholic is working on a “hybrid” option in case large gatherings aren’t yet allowed, according to Karen Hatch, the school’s communications director.

Seattle Preparatory School also hopes for an August graduation ceremony — indoors, outdoors or virtual — but hasn’t set a date, said Lisa Fernandez, the school’s communication and marketing director.

Haley Vick, a senior at Seton Catholic, said she prefers waiting to see if an in-person graduation ceremony is possible. Her brother graduated two years ago, Vick said, and she wants the same experience.

“Seton is one of a kind. I love the school and everything it stands for,” said Vick, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Vancouver who plans to attend the University of Portland this fall. “I’d rather wait a little longer and cross my fingers.”


More than 1,500 eighth-graders set to graduate

High school seniors aren’t the only students to have the COVID-19 pandemic upend a watershed year in their education.

More than 1,500 eighth-graders attending the Archdiocese of Seattle’s 62 K–8 schools are scheduled to graduate this year and transition to high school in the fall.

“We just have to look at creative and out-of-the-box ways to celebrate our young people,” said Sandra Barton Smith, assistant superintendent for mission and Catholic identity for the archdiocese’s Catholic schools office.

Sacred Heart School in Bellevue, which is hosting a drive-in graduation June 11 for its 45 eighth-graders, has found ways to keep the last weeks of eighth grade special.

On the day before graduation, eighth-graders normally have lunch with their second-grade buddies who they’ve been paired with for three years. With school moving online because of COVID-19, the eighth-graders received to-go lunches that contained notes written by their buddies, said Principal David Burroughs.

This year, the tradition of each class presenting a gift for the Sacred Heart eighth-graders continued — the gifts ranged from poems written by kindergarteners to third-graders making prayer cards of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the principal said.

“It’s not quite like all being together, but we try to re-create the parts eighth-graders look forward to the most,” he added.

Some schools, including Assumption School in Bellingham, are delaying graduation ceremonies. Assumption’s 15 eighth-graders are scheduled to graduate July 1, according to Principal Dan Anderson.

During that ceremony, families whose last child is graduating from Assumption will be honored with a bouquet of flowers, Anderson said. “We have some families who have been here for 20 years or more,” he noted.

Despite this year’s COVID-19 restrictions, Barton Smith said social media and technology will allow extended families to participate in eighth-grade graduation ceremonies.

“We can celebrate together, and it will be a meaningful experience,” she said.