Pomp and scary circumstance: images of Michigan grads amid coronavirus

Ron Holland

Nolan Valero, a graduate of Holland High School on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Ottawa County, displays two mementos of the season: His diploma, and his face mask. For graduating seniors, the traditional rite of passage had to be untraditional because of the risks posed by the pandemic (Photo courtesy of Holland Public Schools).

Diplomas delivered by school bus. Graduation speeches spoken through face masks. Commencements held in parking lots.

Welcome to high school graduation during a pandemic.

Public and private K-12 schools across the state were closed in mid-March to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Those closures took a particularly heavy psychic toll on high school seniors, who were robbed of proms and graduation ceremonies — once-in-a-lifetime events snuffed out by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Schools across the state worked to come up with creative ways to honor seniors and make up for the canceled events. Bridge collected images from schools and seniors chronicling what was a very unusual graduation season.

Many Holland High graduates decorated their cars with balloons and signs for a drive-in graduation to re-create the pomp and circumstance they were missing from a traditional commencement ceremony. With the help of the local radio station and sound systems, attendees in cars could hear graduation speeches and the names of graduates as they received their diplomas. (Photo courtesy of Holland Public Schools)

Dearborn High School was one of many schools throughout Michigan to display “2020” on their scoreboards to honor their seniors. (Photo courtesy of Michael Schmitt)

Lake Shore High School in Macomb County brought graduation directly to each senior’s front lawn. Four staff members traveled in yellow school buses blasting “Pomp and Circumstance” around St. Clair Shores, setting up tables on graduates’ front lawns with a red Lake Shore tablecloth and a single diploma. Lake Shore senior Rebecca Dick was the first to receive her diploma through the mobile graduation. While the ceremony was only about 5 minutes long, “It definitely felt like, ‘This is it, I won’t be able to walk the hallways of my school anymore as a student,’” Rebecca said. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Dick)

Clare High School seniors didn’t get their traditional commencement, but they each got individual banners displaying their picture on lamp posts throughout the streets of Clare, where they could be celebrated by the whole community. (Bridge photo by Kelly House)

In groups of 20, Holland seniors left their cars and waited six feet apart before their names were called. Each graduate got approximately 5 seconds to stand in front of the Civic Center and look out into the crowded parking lot, feeling their high school experience come to a close as they received their diploma. (Photo courtesy of Holland Public Schools)

On May 30, Novi High School’s original graduation date, the school encouraged seniors like Adishvar Jeyaranjan to decorate their doors. (Photo courtesy of George Sipple)

Instead of firm handshakes, it was elbow bumps. Instead of applause, it was horns honking. “It was overwhelming, I actually teared up,” said Holland Superintendent Brian Davis. “I couldn’t be more proud of everyone that was involved in it.” (Photo courtesy of Holland Public Schools)

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