Senior Graduation and Celebrations: What We Know (and What We Don’t)


Photo Courtesy of DeKalb County School District.

A pre-pandemic 2018 graduation photo at Chamblee High School.

Henry Diep, Staff Writer

After an unprecedented school year that took place mostly through computer screens and Zoom meetings, Chamblee’s Class of 2021 will, in fact, end their four years of high school with an in-person graduation ceremony.

While there was some initial concern that there would be no graduation ceremony due to the pandemic, like how it was for the Class of 2020, the Class of 2021’s ceremony will be taking place outdoors at James R. Hallford Stadium on May 22.

“I’m excited, I feel like it’ll be fun and definitely safer than having it inside at the World Congress Center [like in previous years],” said Smrithi Satish (‘21).

For the seniors, this will be the first time they see many of their peers in person since school let out in March 2020—over an entire year ago. Some students have expressed concern over this lack of connection.

“There might not be the same camaraderie between our class [compared to previous classes] because we didn’t get to spend the whole year bonding as a class and we might have to socially-distance,” said Max Kim (‘21).

However, in the eyes of some students, that makes this year’s graduation all the more meaningful and special.

“I’m excited for graduation. I’m really thankful that we get to have it this year because I really thought we wouldn’t,” said Abby Starr (‘21). “I feel like senior year is going to feel more complete once we have it because so far it doesn’t feel like it’s my last year of high school. I kind of feel like I’m a junior still.”

At the moment, there remain many questions to be answered surrounding the planning of graduation and what it is going to look like.

“Usually, most of the senior activities are always compacted [and planned] within the last two to three weeks of school,”  said principal Gail Barnes. “I want to say there’s a graduation sponsor meeting upcoming and as soon as we get information, I have no desire to hold onto anything. We’ll share what we know [when we know it], but right now, sadly, I don’t have a lot of information other than that graduation begins on May 22 at seven o’clock.”

One can expect that there will be a mask mandate at graduation, but as of right now, nothing has been finalized—including seating arrangements—according to Barnes.

“I’m assuming—though this is just guessing—that masks will be required,” said Barnes. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like as far as seating is concerned. As a former senior sponsor who used to go out and line up chairs on the field, I have a good idea of what I personally would do. But since I’m not setting up the field, I don’t know what DeKalb is going to do for graduation this year.”

Students have already begun to form opinions and expectations about how graduation might be different this year.

“I think—and also kind of hope—it will be shorter than usual. The masks will obviously be different, but I feel like that’s so normalized now it won’t even be weird,” said Starr. “I think it could be a little scary to have graduation in such a big stadium; it might feel like more pressure.”

The fact that the location of the ceremony will be different this year in contrast to previous years also contributes to the unpredictability of this year’s ceremony.

“We will take a bus down there and make sure that everyone is on it [and] we will probably get there early,” said Barnes. “But then again, I know what it would look like at the World Congress center when you had to get there super early. I don’t know what it will look like at Hallford.”

The same uncertainty rings true for any potential future in-person senior events, such as Prom or Senior Honors Night, due to COVID-19 concerns. While the possibility of such events occurring is not ruled out, it also is not necessarily true that these events are currently in the works or certainly happening.

“We just really need to think through everything. We have to plan for every contingency, […] create like four different backup plans, and just figure out what we can do while making it as safe as possible for everyone. We want to do right by students, but we’ve also got to make sure it’s safe for students,” said Barnes.

Any ideas for an in-person, socially-distanced event can be plausible and may very well have a chance of happening if they get approval.

“A drive-in movie could be cool. Or just an outdoor movie like Screen on the Green,” suggests Starr, for example.

However, the main issue surrounding in-person gatherings is that they have to be approved by the jurisdiction of authorities outside of and higher than that of the school level before anything can happen.

“Let me put it this way. In order to proceed, I have [told] my senior sponsors, SGA [Student Government Association], and anyone who is trying to plan some sort of event that we have to look at a several things,” said Barnes. “We’ve got to look at what the state of Georgia says about gatherings, what DeKalb County says, and what the city of Chamblee says. We also have to operate within a certain vicinity and within their particular rules and [regulations] as far as large groups go. [Regulations] are also constantly changing.”

That being said, Barnes urges seniors to get involved in the event-planning and brainstorming process.

“I encourage anyone who has ideas or wants to be part of that process [to] reach out to SGA and to reach out to your senior class president. Let’s figure out something that seniors want to do that we can do, said Barnes. “Just standing off on the sideline isn’t helping anything. Put your hat in the ring and start helping to do some of the planning.”