York Tech, several others confirm plans for virtual graduation

York County School of Technology has opted to hold a virtual commencement ceremony for its graduates in June.

As COVID-19 has spread throughout the commonwealth, local districts have been waiting to delay graduation, pending word from the governor on whether social distancing and large-group gathering mitigations will be suspended by late May or June.

Though most have already begun exploring alternative options, York Tech is the first to finalize its arrangements: a virtual ceremony at 6:30 p.m. June 1.

"Based on government restrictions, we cannot gather 4,000 people in the same building to conduct a traditional ceremony," said spokeswoman Athena White, in an online letter.

And had school officials decided to maintain an in-person ceremony, they would have needed to find a new location, as the venue chosen for graduation is now a COVID-19 testing facility.

York County School of Technology graduation, Tuesday, June 4, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Red Lion Area School District has also confirmed plans to hold a virtual graduation June 5, and York Suburban will hold a virtual ceremony on May 27, but those districts are still working out the details.

York County colleges have also locked in dates and times for virtual ceremonies, with Penn State announcing university-wide commencements at 2 p.m. May 9 and York College announcing a 3 p.m. ceremony May 31.

York College also will have an in-person ceremony sometime during the 2020-21 school year, though a date and time have not been chosen.

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Other K-12 districts so far have taken a cautious approach to making a decision on the milestone event, in the hopes of finding the best alternative possible.

"I have found that when we can afford ourselves more time, a better decision is always made," said West Shore Superintendent Todd Stoltz in an April 19 update.

West Shore posted a link for the public to submit ideas for seniors and graduation. West York class officers also sent out a survey to the senior class, aiming to have a decision by early May.

So far ideas from other schools around the country include a virtual music festival, a drive-in graduation and timed walks edited into a continuous ceremony to be aired on the date of graduation.

Spring Grove Area School District is waiting until May 21 to decide whether to cancel its traditional May 29 commencement. If social distancing is extended, officials said, the backup plan is to have a virtual ceremony.

Southern York County has decided to delay its May 29 commencement in favor of an in-person event in the summer, provided the health department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deem it safe.

A summer ceremony is also in the works for Dover Area School District, which on Thursday confirmed plans to postpone graduation until July 25 and reschedule prom to June 26.

Details are still being finalized, and plans are subject to change with social distancing guidelines, said district spokesman Brad Perkins, in an email.

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But in lieu of graduation plans for many, districts have found other ways to honor seniors in the interim, including showcasing individual students daily on marquees, social media and in video messages.

Central York had a day to celebrate seniors during its virtual spirit week April 20-24 where parents could share photos and community members could write notes for seniors.

And Northeastern now has an Instagram account dedicated to its Class of 2020.

Many districts also participated in the "Be The Light" campaign in which high school stadium scoreboards were turned on to honor seniors — some starting at 8:20 p.m. (20:20 in military time) for 20 minutes and 20 seconds, displaying a 20-20 score.

Districts are also adding in nods to traditional commencement and year-end events where possible, such as Central, whose music staff created a tribute to seniors with the song, “For Good," which is typically performed at graduation.

And South Western is still hoping the school might see a rendition of "Big The Musical" this summer, officials said in an April 17 Facebook post.