‘It’s unique to our class’: Anchorage seniors talk about changed graduation ceremonies with COVID-19

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Lauryn Johnson was looking forward to a traditional graduation ceremony, surrounded by her classmates, family and friends.

“You go through 12 years of school and don’t get that moment, it kind of sucks,” the A.J. Dimond High School senior said.

Chantilly Camb agrees. “It’s something I looked forward to since I was a kid,” the 18-year-old explains, “It’s a once in a lifetime thing.”

The COVID-19 pandemic closed schools, forcing students to finish the year by studying online. Seniors got no warning that they wouldn’t be coming back to school when they went on spring break.

“I didn’t even get to say goodbye, knowing it was going to be my last day,” Camb said.

Anchorage School District is organizing video graduation ceremonies that will be broadcast online, on radio stations and on KTUU. With the risk of spreading coronavirus, holding in-person ceremonies at the Sullivan Arena was deemed too risky.

“We wish we could do it, it’s just really not feasible,” said Dr. Deena Bishop, the ASD superintendent, on Wednesday.

Graduation memorabilia boxes will also be offered, filled with students’ diploma covers, honor cords, certificates and awards and letters of congratulations.

Ellie Laufer, a senior from West Anchorage High School, started a petition to have her graduation ceremony held on the school’s football field. There would be no audience and only seniors would be allowed to attend, spread out to maintain good social distancing.

The idea was nixed by the district, citing state health mandates that prevent groups of more than 20 people gathering at once.

Laufer said Bishop and Sven Gustafson, West High’s principal, called to explain why the idea wouldn’t work. “They’re actually responding with solutions instead of just brushing things off, which is really nice,” Laufer said.

The idea of watching a graduation ceremony video from home is disappointing to many students.

“It’s devastating, obviously,” said Alison Butcher, a senior from East Anchorage High School. She described that there is one upside, “It’s unique to our class.”

Seventeen-year-old Jess Tatakis, a senior from Dimond High, also points to the strange celebrations that will forever mark the 2020 graduating class. He too is looking at the positives as part of a Dimond High class nicknamed “The Quaranteniors.”

“There isn’t any other class in recent history that’s graduated high school during a worldwide pandemic,” he said.

ASD is sending yard signs across the city, so passersby can celebrate seniors. Tatakis appreciates that and he also appreciates support from the community.

Local families started an “Adopt a Senior” Facebook page. Seniors can sign up and members of the community will send gifts to show support.

“Instantly, within a day, I got like two families who adopted me and brought me different things like food and candy and stuff,” Tatakis said. "Honestly, it made me feel better about the whole situation."

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