Schools pay tribute to high school class of 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts sports, proms, graduations and more, school officials and families search for ways to make their graduating seniors feel special. Above, a student at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Myrtle Beach gives thanks back to her teachers.

When school started back in the fall, Kaitlyn Huvany, 18, was looking forward to a milestone senior year at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in Myrtle Beach. She and her four classmates would be the high school’s first graduating class, with their achievements honored at an elaborate spring commencement ceremony. 

Fast forward to May 2020 and Kaitlyn, her classmates and all the other seniors at high schools around the diocese are living a wildly different reality. The coronavirus pandemic has done away with all of their original plans and schools are left searching for different ways to honor their graduating seniors. 

“It was definitely difficult at one point to think about how the plans have changed, because ever since we started our senior year we had been thinking about graduation,” Huvany said in a recent interview. “Now we’re looking at having a much smaller ceremony than we originally were, but I’m happy we’re having one because I know seniors at other schools who aren’t even going to have a chance to walk to get their diploma.” 

John Paul II and other schools across the state designed tribute signs and placed them in students’ yards and delivered gifts.

The exact date for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s graduation is currently up in the air, but the school’s administration and others around the state have until May 15 to make a decision about what sort of alternative format they want to use for graduation, according to Jacqualine Kasprowski, associate director for secondary education for the diocese. She said the schools are considering two outdoor options: one where students and families would sit in their cars while parked on a field, and the other where they would sit in chairs placed for proper social distancing on a field. 

Both options will allow for the seniors to walk up to accept their diplomas in person. Kasprowski said current plans are for graduations to take place in late May or early June. 

While graduation plans are up in the air, schools have been going all out to honor seniors as much as possible. Many of them, including Seton, Cardinal Newman in Columbia, and Charleston’s Bishop England have printed up special yard signs honoring the Class of 2020 that volunteers have handed out to seniors’ families for display. 

Students from John Paul II School in Ridgeland received their caps and gowns at the same time they got the signs, and their photos will also be displayed on signs that are going to be placed along the road near the school, according to principal John McCarthy. 

St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville is planning a senior celebration and parade for the graduates on May 30, and a drive-through parade is also planned for the seniors at Bishop England, said principal Patrick Finneran. 

At St. Anne School in Rock Hill, the senior class will stand outside the school — six feet apart for proper social distancing — on May 30 while parents and other family members will drive by waving commemorative posters and applauding their graduates. 

John Paul II’s seniors are being honored in an article in a local magazine, and each senior at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton has been given their own page in the yearbook.

 At Cardinal Newman, an alumnus who has experience with filmmaking plans to interview groups of seniors through Zoom meetings and then put the footage together in a tribute. Students there also gathered on May 1 for a “virtual prom” that allowed them to dress in their best and celebrate together via a livestream on Instagram. 

Cardinal Newman made a giant banner featuring its senior class.