ANNANDALE, Va. — High school graduation is one of the biggest moments in a teenager's life. That tradition has been turned upside down this year because of the pandemic. One Fairfax County School is thinking outside the box to celebrate the students safely.
The school staff at Annandale High School set up a stage directly in front of the school. Each student scheduled a specific time slot to safely receive their diploma and celebrate with their families. In total, more than 500 graduating seniors walked across the stage during the course of three days.
Shawn DeRose, the principal of Annandale High School, said they wanted to find a way to safely celebrate their graduating students.
"We knew for our students, especially our seniors, this year was extremely disruptive. They missed out on some of their most cherished high school memories, from prom, the musical and graduation as we know it. Providing some kind of graduation photo op, like we did, is the least we can do to celebrate all they accomplished," DeRose said.
When students arrived, each graduate put on their cap and gown and picked up their diploma. They would then walk across the stage one at a time before taking a professional photo with their family.
"This is one of the highlights of doing this event. For graduation, it is all about the students. They are sitting in the front 40 rows and the parents are in the background at a distance. This event is highlighting the emotions of how the parents are feeling and we are seeing that up close and personal," DeRose said.
DeRose said safety is a main priority. They moved the stage outside so everyone could stand six feet away apart. They scheduled the celebration over three days and students were given specific time slots to avoid large gatherings. Also, everyone was asked to wear a mask, except for the moment they walked up on stage.
"For our students, this is difficult, and for the parents especially. It is a journey together. And not being able to really celebrate the end of the year and have closure to such a monumental life event is difficult for everybody involved," said DeRose.
DeRose said students and their families have enjoyed returning to the school to celebrate the monumental life event.
"Many of the parents and students have reached out to me saying this is awesome, and asking if we can continue doing this even when things get back to normal," DeRose said.
Across Fairfax County, there will also be a separate virtual graduation. Valedictorians will have the chance to give their speech online.