Educators, families applaud decision to OK graduation ceremonies

Updated: Feb. 26, 2021 at 10:19 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii high schools have been given the green light to hold limited, in-person commencement exercises to close out a trying school year for many students.

While the commencement ceremonies won’t look like they did before the pandemic, the news is expected to be particularly sweet for high schoolers who have already had to give up so much this year. Many are still learning remotely much of the time, organized sports can’t be held and other large gatherings (including prom and class trips) have already been canceled for the school year.

In announcing the plan to hold in-person commencement exercises, the state Education Department also released a host of safety guidelines, including social distancing and mask protocols.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said the modified ceremonies “will allow additional flexibility ... beyond virtual options in bringing our graduates together for this momentous occasion.” Some of the rules for the limited commencement events include:

  • The ceremony must be held outdoors or in a venue with adequate ventilation.
  • Graduates will be allowed to bring two members from their household. Schools also have the authority to reduce this number based on venue.
  • In-person performances that include singing or wind instruments aren’t allowed.
  • Masks are required at all times except for limited “mask breaks.”
  • Larger schools can also consider alternative options such as a blend of in-person and virtual ceremonies, staggered drive-through ceremonies or drive-in formats.

Farrington High Principal Al Carganilla said he’s thrilled with the news, but acknowledged a two-person guest limit per grad will be tough.

“What’s going to be hard is deciding who those people are, right? Because our kids have so much people to thank and who have been supportive along the way,” he said.

“So choosing those two will be tough for those kids.”

For James Campbell High School senior Dove Tupper, in-person commencement ceremonies are an answered prayer. Coming from a big family, she had to make a difficult decision.

“It will be sad not to have my siblings there because I have gone to my older brothers’ graduations, but I think two people, it’s a special moment to share with them,” Tupper said.

James Campbell High School senior class President Jezarae Ragasa is looking forward to seeing her peers on graduation day.

“I’m really excited to be able to know that some of the restrictions are being lifted and a lot of the events that we didn’t think were going to take place are actually going to take place,” said Ragasa. “I think a lot of the seniors, or if not all of them, can agree that this year was not ideal by any means.”

Parents say they are grateful to have an in-person celebration, even with strict restrictions.

“It’s a step in the right direction. The numbers are coming down. People are getting inoculated. We have pretty good numbers here on Oahu,” said John Clark III, executive director of Teen Building USA – a nonprofit organization aimed to increase the high school graduation rate.

“It’s great news. The only reservation I have is we know it’s not an easy task for some of the larger schools especially to put on an in-person graduation,” said Tupper’s father, David.

Logistics are still being worked out, such as protocols for lei giving.

On Jan. 11, the department announced it was cancelling all large, in-person social gatherings for the remainder of the school year. But commencement ceremonies were excluded from that list as the DOE collaborated with other political and health leaders to see whether they could safely be held.

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