This editorial was published by the News Tribune of Tacoma.


Any flicker of hope for a Tacoma Dome high school graduation was dashed last week when seniors learned via Facebook that all Tacoma Public Schools commencement ceremonies will take place online.

TPS spokesman Dan Voelpel says district administrators and faculty are putting their virtual heads together to pump up the pomp. But even tech-savvy 12th graders know that events like weddings, funerals and graduation ceremonies don’t translate well via screen.

So far, Tacoma’s “GO BIG” graduation theme hasn’t gone over big with many students and parents, especially considering other districts in the region are waiting on cues from Gov. Jay Inslee before making such a drastic call.

“TPS is giving up on us,” one student wrote on the district Facebook page.

“I’m not buying a cap and gown for my kid for this. No way,” said an angry Tacoma parent, who added that her son would be skipping the virtual event.

The Associated Student Body at Wilson High School is petitioning Superintendent Carla Santorno to consider a “postponed normal graduation,” but it will never happen.

“Students move away,” Voelpel told us this week. “A postponed ceremony wouldn’t be equitable.”

But seniors can expect a few online surprises come graduation day, though Voelpel wouldn’t give specifics.

It’s hard to imagine what surprise could make up for these kids’ immeasurable loss. Due to COVID-19, the Class of 2020 has already sacrificed senior trips, award ceremonies, athletic events, concerts, plays and proms.

The loss of a traditional graduation ceremony gives them one more reason to mourn.

To their credit, TPS high schools have scheduled a “Cap and Gown Distribution Parade,” wherein seniors decorate the family car (provided their family has one) to pick up the ceremonial garb they will eventually don in their living rooms.

Teachers will be on hand to wave and cheer. “It might be the last time students and teachers meet eyeball to eyeball,” Voelpel said.

While the district works fast to find alternative ways to celebrate seniors, it must also “GO BIG” acknowledging their grief.

To the Class of 2020, we get it. A virtual ceremony is a poor substitute for a real one, and it’s OK to say so.

Denied the ability to walk across a stage and accept your hard-earned diploma is akin to a football team playing all season, enduring tough losses but enough wins to make it to the championship game, only to be told the Super Bowl has been canceled.

Seniors, your Super Bowl has been canceled. We won’t try to sugarcoat it by saying “You still earned a diploma” or “No one remembers the commencement speeches anyway.”

Because graduations aren’t about speeches, mortar board hats, surprise guests or even diplomas. They’re about sitting with classmates one last time.

Many of you have been together since kindergarten. You’ve seen each other eat paste, take a baseball in the eye, fall in love for the first time. You may not all like each other, but you’re a squad.

Now an important good-bye ritual is gone, and those words you’ve rehearsed in your heads, the ones thanking that teacher or coach who went the extra mile, may never get spoken.

On the plus side, your parents, guardians, family and friends won’t file into the Dome with big signs revealing your embarrassing childhood nickname.

Certainly, the graduation day they’ve pictured for you will look very different, but not even COVID-19 can steal their pride.

Nor ours, because this year’s seniors won’t be remembered for what they were denied, but for what they endured.

In future commencement addresses, speakers should say: “Be like the Class of 2020. They pushed aside fear and doubt and did what had to be done. For them, making sacrifices for the larger good wasn’t just an abstract idea. It was their senior year.”

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