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 South Lake Schools staff place signs with photos of the South Lake High School graduating class of 2020 along Nine Mile Road May 20.

South Lake Schools staff place signs with photos of the South Lake High School graduating class of 2020 along Nine Mile Road May 20.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


St. Clair Shores schools honor the class of 2020

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 26, 2020

 Signs congratulating the Lake Shore High School class of 2020 line 13 Mile Road in front of the school.

Signs congratulating the Lake Shore High School class of 2020 line 13 Mile Road in front of the school.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 The signs recognizing South Lake graduates are placed in front of the school.

The signs recognizing South Lake graduates are placed in front of the school.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — For the class of 2020, nothing is the same.

“They need to have some sort of closure,” said South Lake Superintendent Ted Von Hiltmayer. “They’ve been working toward this goal for the last 13 years.

“To do nothing for them would be hollow.”

Prom and other end-of-the-year festivities went by the wayside as COVID-19 shut down schools, but local districts are working hard to make graduation something to remember.

“We’re going to try and do as much (as we can) where the kids end up saying, ‘Enough! I’ve gone through enough graduation events,’” said Lake Shore Superintendent Joe DiPonio. “We’re going to give them as much opportunity to wear their cap and gown as possible.”

South Lake Schools started the celebration with the erection of photo signs of the graduating class along the high school’s Nine Mile Road frontage May 20. Then on June 1, staff will be traveling in buses to each student’s home to drop off caps and gowns, awards, yearbooks, senior T-shirts and other belongings, in an effort to congratulate the graduates while social distancing.

The district has not yet determined what the final plans are for a commencement ceremony.

“I know that the staff of the high school has been working very hard to do as many things as they can to honor the class of 2020,” including a video tribute, Von Hiltmayer said.

Lake Shore Public Schools will, similarly, be distributing caps and gowns to seniors May 22.

“We’re going to create this avenue of the graduates. It will line 13 Mile Road as they pull up (with) staff, forming a socially distant tunnel,” DiPonio said.

Students can also sign up to be a part of a “drive-up” graduation at their homes where school and district officials will pull up in a school bus and have students and staff say a few words of congratulation, and a Board of Education member will present the graduate with his or her diploma while following social distancing guidelines.

On May 30, there will be a drive-in honors and awards celebration limited to 50 cars for seniors at the high school, and it will include music and a speech from the senior class president. The district is hosting similar drive-in celebrations for all of its students, such as fifth- and eighth-graders, who are progressing to a new level.

DiPonio said they have tentative plans for an actual graduation Aug. 1, but, “if we can’t do it — and we anticipate that it’s going to be difficult to do — we’ll hold a virtual graduation, but we’ll also reschedule the actual ceremony for Thanksgiving weekend.”

“We feel horrible for these kids,” he continued. “That moment is such a special one, and we don’t want them to lose out on anything. We’re all in a tough spot here, and we’re all trying to do the best that we can.”

Lakeview Public Schools Superintendent Karl Paulson said that their plans for graduation have been difficult to finalize because Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order technically makes any sort of drive-up gathering or delivery of items by staff illegal.

“That’s not how we want to play it,” he said. “We don’t want to have anybody’s grandma sick because we allowed some sort of a gathering.

“It’s hard for people to understand and accept (that) these are the rules that we have to live by. Even though you don’t want to live by them, we can’t condone that.”

Lakeview Public Schools has made plans that will take further shape if the executive order is allowed to expire May 28 as planned. Because the district does not know if the order will be extended or changed in any manner, it is planning to hold a virtual graduation June 12 with recorded speeches from the high school principal, superintendent, board president, valedictorian and salutatorian, and a slideshow of graduates in their caps and gowns will be shown, which will be delivered to each family prior to the graduation, after the expiration of the stay-at-home order.

As of May 21, Whitmer began allowing gatherings of 10 people or fewer, as long as participants practice social distancing, as part of her MI Safe Start plan.

According to a letter sent out to parents from the high school in mid-May, if the executive order is relaxed in any way May 29 to allow the gathering of small groups, the district would also consider having a drive-up ceremony June 13 in the auditorium parking lot, where students and their families would park in assigned spots to maintain social distancing.

There would also be speeches and the reading of graduates’ names broadcast on speakers and over FM radio, and graduates could come up to receive their diploma at a safe distance from the stage.

Lakeview is doing “everything under the law” to ensure that both options can occur, according to the letter.

“We would hope that (the expiration of the order) opens the door for us to keep planning what we’re doing,” Paulson said. “It’s special, unique, never-did-it-before type of work, but our people are motivated.”

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