County Council approves in-person graduation ceremonies

Staff+members+are+planning+for+Whitman%27s+graduation+ceremony+to+take+place+on+the+football+field+on+June+11.+The+coronavirus+pandemic+relegated+last+year%27s+seniors+to+online+graduation+events.

Matt Mande

Staff members are planning for Whitman’s graduation ceremony to take place on the football field on June 11. The coronavirus pandemic relegated last year’s seniors to online graduation events.

By Ellie Arenstein

All MCPS high schools will hold in-person graduation ceremonies in early June, per the Montgomery County Council’s unanimous vote on April 20 to amend the county Board of Health’s graduation guidelines.

Whitman will hold its graduation ceremony on June 11. The Black & White has verified that staff members are planning for the event to take place at the school’s outdoor stadium.

The decision relieved many seniors, some of whom said they had been anxious that they would never gather with their grade one last time.

“It was unconfirmed for a while whether it was going to be in person or not,” senior Anna Kulbashny said. “Our entire class hasn’t gotten together in person to celebrate something in over a year, so this is very cool.”

The Council imposed several safety restrictions on the ceremonies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Staff members must avoid physical contact with students while handing them diplomas, stages can’t contain more than ten people at a time and spectators from different households must sit at least six feet apart. Additionally, participants must wear masks throughout the ceremonies and refrain from gathering for group photographs. 

Councilmembers also mandated that each school keep records of audience members’ identities for contact tracing purposes.

After observing the recent return of students to Whitman’s building, senior Maddie Kemp’s faith in administrators’ ability to put on a safe event has grown, she said.

“The administration has been able to pull off in-person school pretty well,” Kemp said. “The fact that it will be outdoors and we’ll be wearing masks is good. I don’t have many concerns.”

For outdoor graduations like Whitman’s, the Council limited the total number of guests to half of the venue’s maximum occupancy. Whitman administrators have not yet confirmed the number of spectators who they will allow at the school’s event.

Social studies teacher Peter Kenah said he is “ecstatic” for seniors to receive their diplomas during a formal ceremony, an experience that the class of 2020 missed out on

“This will be a hundred times better,” Kenah said. “June 11 is going to be a great day.”

After seniors lost a year’s worth of school traditions, Kulbashny — a member of the chamber choir — remains hopeful that her chorus can retain one custom: performing at graduation, as the group has typically done in the past. 

“Singing live music would be super cool,” Kulbashny said. “As for graduation, it’s obviously not how we wanted it to be, but I’m really grateful that we have this opportunity.”