The high school commencement ceremony has been a rite of passage cherished by young people for generations.
This represents a new chapter of their lives following an extraordinary accomplishment. It shows they’ve completed the initial phases of their academic studies and are ready to move into adulthood. Some of them will prepare for college with others will embark on careers.
But these ceremonies have been put in limbo this year. The novel coronavirus pandemic has cast doubts over whether they should be held.
State mandates prohibit many types of mass gatherings. School districts are examining creative ways to honor high school graduates while adhering to social distancing rules.
State Assembly Minority Leader William A. Barclay, R-Pulaski, and his Republican colleagues have signed a letter asking to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to allow high school graduation ceremonies. As long as they observe the proper safety protocols, seniors should be able to enjoy this experience.
“The impact of COVID-19 on New York’s students has been especially jarring, as valuable classroom time disappeared, social routines were disrupted and students were forced to miss out on many benefits of student life. Let’s give them back this one, important event and try to fill some of the void left by this terrible pandemic,” Mr. Barclay said in a news release issued Thursday. “We believe with proper planning and execution these events could safely be hosted in the near future and provide some much-needed normalcy in these trying times.”
Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Burnt Hills, minority ranker on education, echoed Mr. Barclay’s views.
“This has been an extremely trying year for New York students. Now that many regions are seeing substantial drops in COVID-19 cases, it is time not just for reopening the economy, but for repairing the building blocks of our communities. I can think of no better place to do that than in our schools,” she said in the news release. “Graduating high school is a tremendous accomplishment, and the Class of 2020 and their families deserve to celebrate those accomplishments.”
The letter made this case for the Assembly Minority Conference. Signers of the document include state Assemblymen Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River; Robert J. Smullen, R-Meco; and Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown.
“We must consider that students have been isolated at home for almost three months due to the pandemic. Graduation ceremonies to celebrate educational accomplishments are an important rite of passage and represent a lifetime milestone. But they could also be an excellent way to finally transition our state out of this lockdown. For many young people who do not plan to attend college, this will be the only opportunity to participate in a graduation ceremony,” it read. “Allowing graduation ceremonies to proceed would offer a sense of closure for students who so abruptly left school and had their educational experiences turned upside down. This is often the last time these young people will see each other as they move onto different paths in life. Few occasions are as truly memorable, and a graduation ceremony would provide students the chance to say their goodbyes.”
To protect individuals vulnerable to COVID-19, family members of graduates may watch the ceremonies livestreamed over the internet while at home. But young people who don’t have compromising health conditions should enjoy walking across a stage to receive their diplomas. As long as high schools use venues large enough to keep everyone separated by a safe distance, let’s allow them to commence with commencements.