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Central Florida Schools Announce Spring Graduation Plans In The Time Of COVID

Photo: Jane Carmona @naomisdaydreams
Seminole County Public Schools and University of Central Florida are partnering to bring safe, outdoor, in-person spring 2021 graduation experiences to students despite COVID-19.

Last year, students across Central Florida were largely disappointed to have small, even cancelled graduation events due to COVID-19 risks.

With vaccine distribution and an entire year to adapt, schools and school districts have been publicly discussing creative plans to avoid the same situation again this semester.

As University of Central Florida announced their two graduation alternatives for spring 2021, Seminole County Public Schools also announced their own plans to partner with UCF to host their high school graduations at its UCF's football stadium.

Seminole County high schools will have the opportunity to celebrate each of their graduation events in May at UCF's stadium, endearingly referred to as the "Bounce House," over an eight-day period, to allow each school their own special day.

SCPS Superintendent Walt Griffin said UCF's stadium is very large, with the capacity to accommodate a lot of guests while keeping plenty of room to follow CDC social distancing safety guidelines. Attendees will also be required to wear face coverings.

"We have been working since November to provide as normal of a graduation and senior activities as possible," Griffin said.

For this "most unusual year," as Griffin said, the goal was to provide a "normal" graduation event experience.

"We are so excited our graduations are going to be in the Bounce House," SCPS Executive Director Mike Gaudreau said in the video. "Which obviously holds a lot more than any school facility could or even the Amway indoor arena."

More details are to come, but the dates and times for the schools have been set, and the social media responses from followers were upbeat, expressing gratitude at the opportunity to have a day with family, pictures and friends.

On a similar token, there's good news for UCF students as well.

For spring 2020, UCF graduates had a virtual graduation, walking in regalia from their own homes. For fall 2020, they had "grad walks," where they could only invite four guests in small-scale graduation events, lacking the pomp and circumstance.

Theodorea Regina Berry, UCF vice provost and dean, said the school is pleased to provide options for students. Unlike the previous year, 2021 spring graduates at UCF will get to choose between two alternatives for a graduation ceremony with family members, pictures, and the walk, despite the ongoing pandemic.

“Both events are going to allow students to wear regalia, cross the stage, have loved ones present in attendance - which we know is very important for such a memorable experience," she said.

One of the options for students is the “grad walk" -- a small-scale event that will host only a few families at a time, while allowing students to bring up to five invited guests this time. The families will have their turn, then the room will be sanitized every hour to allow for more families to come in.

This first option is ideal for students concerned with big, crowded events, or who have immune-compromised conditions or family members. It is also ideal for students who want to bring more people to celebrate with them.

The second alternative is closer to a large, more traditional commencement ceremony -- there will be guest speakers and academics on stage. Students will have their name called, walk across the stage to get their diploma and will get to take their masks off to pose for photos. And while they will have other classmates around, graduates can only bring two guests.

Berry said graduation will look a little different because of safety guidelines but that the modified ceremonies give students the chance to celebrate their "momentous occasion."

Both UCF events will take place over a 10 days to accommodate everyone. A UCF official statement said that "while details are being finalized, graduates who plan to participate must RSVP by March 19."