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This year, Detroit’s graduation celebrations will be virtual. Here’s what high schools are planning.

An Academy of the Americas High School graduate waves after a celebratory yard sign was dropped off by school staff. The school is planning a June 22 virtual graduation, among many that will take place over the next month in the city.
Elisa Limon-Hernandez

Over the coming weeks, the 36 graduating seniors at Academy of the Americas school in Detroit will don caps and gowns, and be recorded individually while walking outside their school.

Footage from those videos will be pieced together to provide a virtual equivalent of what is always a stirring moment during any graduation: the procession of graduates to begin the ceremony.

It’s part of a plan to make a June 22 virtual graduation feel as close as possible to a traditional commencement ceremony. “In the end, it’s for them,” Principal Nicholas Brown said. “We want to make it as special as possible.”

With the global pandemic upending the usual pomp and circumstance, schools across Detroit — and across the country and world — are pivoting to virtual celebrations. Elsewhere, the pandemic has led districts to recruit high-profile commencement speakers, and to take advantage of ski gondolas or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for their socially distanced celebrations.

Every high school in the Detroit Public Schools Community District will be holding a virtual graduation over the next months, said Chrystal Wilson, spokeswoman for the district. The graduations won’t be livestreamed, but families, students, and staff will have access to them.

Some charter schools in the city are also planning virtual send-offs for their graduates. The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, for instance, is planning a June 6 graduation event. Meanwhile, the Detroit Edison Public School Academy has planned home visits on June 4-5, a June 10 senior parade, and a June 16 virtual graduation. A Class of 2020 graduation video will be created from all of the events, said Ralph Bland, president of New Paradigm for Education, the school’s management company.

In the Detroit school district, the virtual graduations will wrap up more than a month of events to celebrate seniors in the district. Some schools have already begun to visit the homes of their graduates to deliver congratulatory yard signs and caps and gowns, and some are holding senior pinning ceremonies.

Beginning June 8, district graduates will be able to stop by their schools — at designated times and with social distancing measures in place — to do things such as turn in books and clean out lockers. In late July or early August, each school will hold an event that will allow the 2020 class to walk across the stage of their school auditorium and take graduation pictures with three family members. As with other in-person events, social distancing measures will be in place.

The virtual graduations will feature messages by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, School Board President Iris Taylor and other board members, a welcome from the school administrator, speeches by the valedictorian and salutatorian, a message from a class representative, and a virtual walk across the stage, when each senior’s name will be read as their photo is displayed.

Brown said his school’s virtual event will also include a student singing the national anthem, and a speech from a DTE Energy executive. He said planning a virtual event has been a learning experience. They’ve already discussed an alternative to recording students walking in front of the school in their caps and gowns; this plan would have the students produce the videos at home.

“Doing it this kind of way is new. But we’ll give it the best we got,” he said.

Last Friday, a caravan of Academy of the Americas educators in more than 25 vehicles pulled off a celebratory parade through the city, stopping at the homes of the graduates, handing out their caps and gowns, and placing yard signs congratulating them on their accomplishments.

“It was great to see the smiles on their faces, how appreciative they were. They really felt special,” Brown said.

Here are the dates for the virtual graduations planned for Detroit district schools:

  • Academy of the Americas, 9 a.m., June 22
  • Ben Carson, 1 p.m., June 25
  • Cass Tech, 10 a.m., June 18
  • Central, 3 p.m., June 22
  • Charles Drew, 2 p.m., June 26
  • Cody, 3 p.m., June 9
  • Communication & Media Arts, noon, June 12
  • Davis Aerospace, 3 p.m., June 23
  • DCP at Northwestern, 9 a.m., June 24
  • Denby, noon, June 27
  • Detroit School of Arts, 10 a.m., June 23
  • DIA, 3 p.m., June 24
  • Diann Banks, 3 p.m., June 26
  • East English Village, 3 p.m., June 25
  • Frederick Douglass Academy, noon, June 19
  • Henry Ford, noon, June 25
  • JL White, 10 a.m., June 25
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. , 1 p.m., June 16
  • Mumford, 5 p.m., June 26
  • Osborn, noon, June 26
  • Pershing, noon, June 23
  • Renaissance, 5 p.m., June 22
  • Southeastern, noon, June 25
  • West Side Academy, 9 a.m., June 27
  • Western International, 5 p.m., June 27

Charter schools:

  • Detroit Edison Public School Academy, 4 p.m., June 16
  • Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, 2 p.m., June 6

If your Detroit school — district or charter — is planning a virtual graduation and isn’t included on this list, let us know at detroitl.tips@chalkbeat.org.

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