Dear Class of 2020 Students and Families,

As seniors work to finish up their final year of high school, one of the most pressing questions on everyone’s minds is whether or not the Class of 2020 will have a graduation ceremony.

The answer to that question is YES – our Class of 2020 will absolutely have a graduation ceremony.  In fact, to make sure these seniors recognize how much we value them, we will hold 2 ceremonies – a corporate event on June 12 followed by an individualized event on June 13.

This message outlines Salem High School’s plans for the Class of 2020’s graduation ceremonies.  In it, I have attempted to help you understand the thinking that has brought us to this point.  At the end you will find additional information about other end-of-year senior events.

June 12 – Corporate Graduation Ceremony
While we would absolutely love to be able to hold a traditional in-person graduation ceremony, the likelihood of doing so is very slim.  In his order #55, Governor Northam explicitly states:

All public and private in-person gatherings of more than 10 individuals are prohibited. This includes parties, celebrations, religious, or other social events, whether they occur indoor or outdoor.

While this order will most likely expire in May, Phase 1 of the Governor’s plan to open up the Commonwealth retains the 10 person limit.  Our graduation date is June 12, which could lead us to think an in-person graduation ceremony would be possible.  The problem is we don’t know for sure what the regulations will be at that time.  Is it realistic that by June 12 we will be allowed to have gatherings of 3000 – the normal size of our ceremonies?  Is it realistic to think we will be allowed to have gatherings of 286 – the size of the Class of 2020?

The answer is we just don’t know what the situation will be by June 12.  Therefore, we are assuming we will not be allowed to have a traditional in-person ceremony.  We are making back up plans for one just in case all the stars align in our favor, but the bulk of our planning is focused on meaningful alternatives to a traditional ceremony.

Another factor we have considered is when to have a ceremony.  Some schools have announced they will hold their ceremonies later in the summer in the hopes they can meet in-person.  While that has an appealing aspect to it, we have decided against it for two reasons.  For starters, the summer is too big of an unknown.  We could plan for something in July but then still not be able to meet.  The other problem is that a summer graduation stretches out further what has already turned into a very long senior year.

So we have decided to hold our corporate graduation ceremony on June 12.  That date has already been circled on everyone’s calendars, and having a June 12 ceremony will allow us to wrap up the year in a timely manner.  If it becomes possible to hold this ceremony in person, we will quickly shift gears, but the current plan for June 12 is for a meaningful virtual ceremony.  

That leads to an obvious question: What will this ceremony look like?  The answer will evolve through the spring, but here is the general framework.  The ceremony will be held via Zoom.  We have access to Zoom’s Webinar feature which will enable 1000 unique logins to view the ceremony.  We are also looking into streaming the Zoom ceremony through other social media platforms simultaneously.

This virtual ceremony will be modeled after our traditional in-person graduations.  Some aspects of it will be live.  Other aspects, such as our student speeches, will be recorded ahead of time.  As part of the ceremony, each graduating senior’s name will be announced and each graduate’s personalized graduation slide will be shown.  This is the same slide that is typically shown at graduation when the graduate crosses the stage.

To ensure no student is left out, it is imperative that all graduates complete the Graduation Slide Show Survey that has been sent via email multiple times.  So far, 136 graduates have filled out the survey and told us what they would like to have on their slide.  However, we are still waiting on 150 more responses.  From a Salem Schools login, please visit https://forms.gle/VJtxUAznR84ShA526 and fill out the survey by Monday, May 11.  This link is also found on the front page of the SHS website.

Another aspect of our normal graduation ceremony that will continue is our graduation program.  We are creating a program that we will distribute to all graduates as a keepsake.  In this program, we not only list our students’ names, but we also include their accomplishments.  Along with the Graduation Slide Show Survey mentioned above, please make sure your senior also fills out the Senior Exit Survey so their accomplishments are not left out of this nice keepsake.  From a Salem Schools login, please visit https://forms.gle/SJFK7CT8kXLZ3gTy7 and fill out the survey by Monday, May 11.

June 13 – Individual Graduation Ceremony
So while we are working to ensure the virtual corporate graduation ceremony will be fun and meaningful, we don’t feel that a virtual ceremony alone is enough.  Therefore, we are making plans for an in-person opportunity for students to receive their diplomas and to have pictures taken in their caps and gowns, thanks in large part to the commitment of our entire City, including the terrific people at the Salem Civic Center.

We are still working on the details for this event, but the general plan is for this individual graduation ceremony to take place in the Salem Civic Center Annex on Saturday, June 13.  The Annex is the large addition on the back of the Civic Center.  We have considered holding this event in various outdoor locations, but heat, rain, or wind could make such an event difficult. Inside the Annex, we are protected from the elements.

The Annex has large garage doors on either side of it that will allow for cars to enter from one side and exit out the other.  Once inside the Annex, the student will exit the car, walk across a stage, and receive his or her diploma.  Family and friends can take pictures from within the car, while our photographer also chronicles the event on stage.  When the student leaves the stage, we plan to have other picture taking stations manned by professional photographers.  All pictures taken by our photographers will then be shared with families free of charge.

The logistics required for this individual approach will take a considerable amount of time and planning.  Please expect more information regarding both of these events, but specifically, please endeavor to block out a significant portion of time on June 13.  We’re going to go ahead now and ask you to prepare to be patient as we will be doing something we have never done before for each of our 286 seniors.

Additional Senior End-of-Year Events

  • Senior Awards Ceremony – We are creating a pre-recorded video version of this event.  Many of the scholarships and awards we recognize will be surprises to students, but many come from the information we receive from students on the previously mentioned Senior Exit Survey.  Please make sure students complete that survey by May 11.

  • Career Signing Day – We host a Career Signing Day for graduating seniors who have lined up full-time employment after high school.  This includes students who have already enlisted in a branch of the armed forces.  This year, Mr. Bird is creating a virtual Signing Day to recognize these accomplishments.  If this applies to you, make sure you complete this additional survey by May 11: https://forms.gle/2twqoDcXfso8V9Xs6

  • Counseling Office Window College Display – We always use the window of our School Counseling Office to display the colleges our graduates will be attending this fall.  Mr.  Barrett is working on a website version of this exciting tradition.  We use the information shared with us in the previously mentioned Senior Exit Survey, so here’s another reason to make sure it is completed by May 11.

  • Community Scholarship Night – SHS and the Salem Ed Foundation have decided to mail out the Salem Ed scholarships to students in late May.  We will then highlight each recipient on our social media.

  • Turning in Chromebooks/Textbooks and Collecting Personal Belongings – More information will be sent home in the coming weeks about how we will collect Chromebooks and textbooks from seniors and when the school will be available for collecting any personal belongings.

We realize these plans are not as satisfying as our traditional in-person events, but our hope is that our graduates and their families will still find them memorable and meaningful.  As more details develop we will share them with you, but for now, know that we love the Class of 2020, and we are working hard to ensure you receive a sendoff worthy of the outstanding people you are!

You are loved and appreciated,

Scott Habeeb