FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Virtual commencements have flooded social media feeds of high school seniors all across the DMV.
Sunday marks National Graduation Tassel Day, a day to honor the accomplishments of graduates, soon-to-be graduates reflected on their senior year experience. Spoiler alert: It was anything but expected.
“I have been looking forward to a lot of the moments as a little kid,” Lake Braddock senior Keali Chang said. “It was hard to come to terms with missing my graduation.”
“It's been rough,” Justice High School senior Gabriel Ortega said. “At first it was kind of a surprise because we all thought we were going to go back on April 14, and it would all just blow away.”
The coronavirus pandemic has forced schools to close their doors and virtual learning to fill the rest of the school year.
It has also forced seniors to miss their prom and graduation-related activities.
“It hurts because we kind of didn't expect to go through this,” Chang said. “So we thought that we were gonna graduate together, these are the kids that you've gone to school with your entire lives waiting for that moment, waiting for all night grad, waiting to cross the stage together.”
As a way to keep graduations intact, districts across the DMV have announced plans for their 2020 graduates
- Arlington County Public Schools will hold virtual graduations.
- Montgomery County Public Schools will hold virtual graduations and in-person graduation once large groups are permitted to graduate.
- Loudoun County Public Schools will hold virtual celebrations and hope to have an in-person ceremony at a time when it is safe to do so.
- Prince George’s County Public Schools will have eGraduation celebrations and the district is working on graduation once restrictions are lifted.
- Fairfax County Public Schools will hold virtual graduations with a ceremony planned at a later date when restrictions are lifted.
Until then, virtual commencements continue to flood social media. Both Ortega and Chang said they caught some of the speeches.
“I tuned in for a little bit, but in a way it helps, but also in a way, it sort of hurts because each graduation is different for every school,” Chang said. “And they try and make it as personal as possible but it's not your graduation. You don't get to walk across the stage, cap and gown, in front of your whole family, you don't get to throw your cap up in the air. It's hard to sit at home watching TV alone instead of sitting next to your best friend on graduation day.”
Chang said being a 2020 senior is something only a fellow senior could understand. She said she had been dreaming of picking out the perfect prom dress and having the perfect prom night was something she has been dreaming about since she was a little girl, and the pandemic took that away from her.
There is an opportunity for both Chang and Ortega to walk across the stage. Both students attend FCPS schools, which is planning on having graduations once restrictions are lifted.
Ortega said that is something he would like to do and is looking forward to a day when he can celebrate with his classmates.
“It has been rough, yes,” Ortega said. “I think I always look at the future and what's ahead, and I try to stay positive. You do get a little sad sometimes and you lose hope, but you know you just kind of maintain that goal that it's going to get better one day, and we'll have time to celebrate. Just look forward to doing a huge celebration with everybody.”
Until that can happen, both he and Chang said they understand why the stay at home orders are in place, and why their senior year has been rocked.
“The county, in general, has done a lot for us and you know they're trying their best to make it as special as possible for the seniors, but there's only so much they can do with the health guidelines put in place,” Ortega said.
As for fellow classmates, Chang has some advice.
“I went through high school thinking I had all the time to spare, so just take every moment for what it's worth because I missed my senior year. I can't get it back.".