Another casualty of the coronavirus crisis in Hawaii this spring will be in-person high school commencement ceremonies, according to an update from the Hawaii Department of Education on Wednesday.

“The safety of our community is paramount and we have decided to plan for alternative graduation ceremonies instead of traditional commencement ceremonies,” school superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a video message posted to the DOE website.

For approximately 10,000 high school seniors on track to graduate in Hawaii this year, traditional ceremonies will be replaced by something else that will be determined by each school.

Roosevelt seniors line up before commencemtn ceremony. 30 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The coronavirus health crisis has led the DOE to cancel all in-person commencement ceremonies this spring. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

That could take the form of virtual, “e-conference” ceremonies or something like a drive-through system at smaller schools to give students and families a chance to take photos, she said earlier in a video interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“We have empowered (schools) to design a celebration which can best reflect the traditions of their communities,” said Kishimoto in her recorded message. “Each high school will announce their celebration date and unique approaches with graduates next week.”

High school commencement ceremonies typically happen from mid- to late-May. That same general timetable will be kept once schools begin announcing their plans next week, according to the superintendent.

While not unexpected in the wake of extended school closures, cancellations of mass gatherings and continued reminders to socially distance as COVID-19 continues to spread around the islands, the official update from the DOE regarding graduation activities marks yet another blow to students this year.

High school graduations in Hawaii are a huge occasion and an event seniors and their families look forward to each year.

As Kishimoto noted in her video address, the ceremonies here are unique — featuring a “longstanding tradition with families giving towering amounts of lei, cooking together and celebrating their childrens’ educational accomplishments with great fanfare.”

The DOE has already decided to modify high school graduation requirements, so that a student’s third-quarter grades will determine their final grade for a course and their GPA for the year. The fourth quarter will not be graded.

Schools are officially closed through April 30. The last instructional day of the school year is May 28. It is unclear when the DOE plans to reopen schools or whether it will extend that closure through the rest of the year.

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