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Pomp and Circumstance 

Under the Circumstances, Graduation Ceremonies go Virtual

Social distancing to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus forced schools to shift to remote learning in March, and prevents the class of 2020 from packing students, faculty and family together for traditional graduation ceremonies.

At Topanga Elementary Charter School fifth grade teachers Dr. Gina Amenta-Shin and Ms. Sondra Tapper find creative ways for students to experience the joy of graduation, and share it with loved ones by planning an online, video-conference ceremony, which will have elements of a traditional ceremony as well as interactive digital components. The culmination will be held on June 5 on Zoom. The ceremony program, link and password will be sent via email to parents, who are welcome to share the link with family members. 

Family members who would not have been able to travel to the traditional ceremony can now be part of it online. 

The program will begin with a video featuring the forty-nine graduating students sharing, “What Topanga Means to Me.” Principal Kevin Kassabaum will be Master of Ceremony and deliver the welcome address. Four students will be selected to pre-record their culmination speeches about Topanga Elementary memories. Teachers will give speeches. The ceremony will conclude with a slideshow of student photos, and a video of students dancing to the song “Happy”.

Usually students sing, but before adding live music planners are working to debug the problematic satellite delay experienced in the daily zoom sessions with students—a new and now typical challenge to tackle for pandemic-era educators.

The online ceremony will be recorded, and the video made available to families, thus establishing for posterity the accomplishment of these fifth graders, who are now headed off to a middle school experience that may begin with remote learning.

At Manzanita School on June 10, fourteen students will celebrate entering high school under the guidance of eighth-grade teacher Jennifer Carey, and mentor and curriculum specialist Elizabeth “EJ” Johnson, who also runs the school’s farm program. In addition to a virtual program, individual families will come to the campus one at a time to mark their student’s accomplishment and receive some gifts.

For high school graduates—Manzanita’s Class of 2020 has two—the school has a singular tradition that will not be adversely affected by socially distancing. Each candidate will complete a Solo, spending a night alone in the wilderness. Much time is spent (remotely) with the student in preparation for his or her Solo. The exercise involves deep reflection and often fasting, and usually takes place in the chaparral above the school’s pristine location at Big Rock on Old Topanga Canyon Road. The student is welcomed back from the overnight quest with fanfare by the community – this year probably with everybody in cars, but no less supportive and proud.

In addition, a more traditional component of Manzanita’s graduation ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 6. The graduates will wear regalia and receive diplomas in a personal ceremony attended by fewer than ten people, including Head of School Dr. Paul Astin, high school teachers Jeremy Sands and Nic Colliard, the students, and their families. 

Like any other year, Manzanita graduates answer the following questions: Where have I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? Seminal questions answered from multiple angles in individual presentations. The community will witness the milestone in these students’ lives through live streaming.  

Our deep connection will sustain us during this challenging time.  – The Manzanita Team

If adversity makes you stronger, Malibu High’s class of 2020 is herculean after a high school experience book-ended by two crises, the Woolsey fire and the Coronavirus pandemic. Malibu resident Suzanne Guldimann reports “the families of all the graduates have a sign out in front of their houses donated by the family of one of the seniors. It’s a bittersweet tribute to a class that has gone through back-to-back disasters.” 

2020 marks the 90th Commencement Ceremony at Santa Monica College. Dr. Kathryn Jeffery, SMC Superintendent and President, announced in April that it would be impossible to maintain the safety and health of the thousands of graduates and guests who traditionally gather in Corsair Field. SMC will have a virtual ceremony honoring Summer/Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 graduates on June 26.

  A graduation program-booklet celebrating the graduates’ successes, along with diplomas and certificates, will be mailed to the homes of graduates.  For the first time, SMC graduates may create a personalized presentation slide, including a photo, a brief personal video or written message, which will be used to commemorate this special moment in their academic life.  The ceremony will be streamed at   

A festive SMC Celebration Kit includes info on student regalia, digital backgrounds, a Snapchat filter, hosting a watch party, a personal commemorative video, and continues to expand with creative ideas for feting the occasion.

  Though many of the SMC graduates will transfer to other universities and earn higher degrees (SMC is the #1 transfer school to CSU, UCLA and USC), for other graduates this will be their highest degree achieved, and perhaps even the educational high-water mark in a family’s history.  The SMC website states,

 “We know the virtual ceremony does not take the place of an in-person graduation, to that end we also invite [2020 graduates] to participate in the June 2021 Commencement.”

As a professor of sustainability at both SMC and UCLA, Topangan Victoria Charles is constantly talking to her students about climate change, with the principles of resilience and preparation being key to adapting to a necessary radically different way of living. “We will do it as humans so it’s not chaotic – or a force of nature will make us get in balance.” 

As the Coronavirus pandemic is providing a new curriculum for us all, the Class of 2020, the vanguard for adapting and embracing innovation in a crisis, is immediately called upon to go beyond academics and exercise their resilience and preparation. 

Well done, graduates. 

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