Scottsdale Schools sets up virtual commencement for graduating students


Commencement ceremonies for the nation’s graduating seniors are taking new forms in 2020, due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

When surveyed recently how it wishes to celebrate its achievements, a majority of the Scottsdale Unified School District class of 2020 favored a traditional, in-person graduation ceremony this summer, if public health guidance indicates it is safe to do so, according to a press release.

In previous years, SUSD high school graduation ceremonies have drawn more than 1,000 participants each. This year, crowds of that size would go against guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on large gatherings.

Anticipating that these pandemic-forced emergency measures would not relax significantly enough to accommodate safe May 21 graduation ceremonies, the schools are getting creative to celebrate the accomplishments of the class of 2020.

Principals at SUSD’s five high schools --- Arcadia, Chaparral, Coronado, Desert Mountain and Saguaro --- and its online high school Scottsdale Online Learning have been working in recent weeks to reinvent graduation ceremonies.

“After hearing from our seniors that they would still like some sort of celebration at the end of the school year, even if it can’t be in person, we started planning virtual ceremonies through videos. We could not let May 21 come and go, unheralded,” Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Dr. Milissa Sackos said in a prepared statement.

“The video tributes will include student speeches, music and the announcement of the graduates’ names. We think the graduates and their parents will be pleasantly surprised.”

SOL will kick off the graduation celebrations Tuesday, May 19 with the other high schools following on Thursday, May 21 sharing their virtual celebrations.

The SOL celebration will take place on Zoom beginning at 6 p.m. from participants’ respective locations. SUSD Executive Director of Support Services Dr. Steven Chestnut will offer remarks and SOL Counselor Gary Griggs will introduce the graduates. Family members will have the opportunity to provide personalized congratulations to their graduate at the program’s conclusion.

Chaparral’s virtual commencement ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. on May 21, with a slideshow of student photographs. The official program will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will include student speakers who tried out virtually for the honor and junior class teachers selecting the speakers, a release states.

Arcadia’s virtual ceremony, which will begin at 7:30 p.m., will feature student speeches and musical performances. Principal Todd Stevens will offer his remarks to the graduating class; faculty will then read each graduate’s name. Seniors have uploaded their photographs, which will be shown as their names are read.

Saguaro’s graduating seniors will be recognized in their virtual ceremony that begins at 7:45 p.m. It will feature student musical performances and speakers, comments from Principal Ann Achtziger and student-submitted photographs while each graduate’s name is read.

Coronado’s 8 p.m. graduation ceremony will include student speeches, student performances, faculty speeches, congratulatory remarks by Principal Amy Palatucci and a reading of the graduates’ names while their photographs are shown.

Desert Mountain graduates will also be celebrated online at 8 p.m. on May 21. Following school tradition, students will emcee the event. In recent weeks, class speakers and musical groups have auditioned to be part of the program, and seniors voted on which faculty member would address the class. Principal Dr. Lisa Hirsch will also provide remarks.

“The class of 2020 has been through a lot since mid-March,” Dr. Sackos said. “Our seniors deserve a big send-off.”