Last month, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that the physical campuses of all schools in the state would remain closed for the rest of this academic year, District 200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams vowed that her administration would “find a meaningful way” to celebrate the class of 2020. Now Pruitt-Adams’ administration is working to make good on that promise. 

On May 9, every graduating senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School will get a yard sign delivered to their front lawns, district officials said. Susan Johnson, OPRF’s director of student activities, said the signs were designed by OPRF visual arts teacher Val White. 

“We’ve had over 100 faculty and staff members volunteer to deliver the signs between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” Johnson said in an email, adding that residents might be able to catch sightings of Hemmy the Huskie around the community congratulating seniors. 

The district also conducted a survey last month that polled graduation preferences. Officials said 553 students and 607 parents/guardians responded to the survey, which yielded more than 550 individual comments. 

“Based on being the top choice of both students and parents/guardians, graduation will be held in person on Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, pending state and local social-distancing guidelines in place at that time,” said Karin Sullivan, D200’s executive director of communications and community relations, in a letter sent to families on April 23. 

“We had 396 students and 428 parents/guardians select Aug. 2 as their first choice,” Sullivan explained. “The second choice for both groups was Dec. 20, while the third choice was a virtual ceremony on May 31.” 

“I saw an article posted in the recently created Facebook group for parents of the class of 2020 that described the plans for a virtual ceremony at a high school in Gulfport, Miss.,” Sullivan said, explaining how the idea to possibly bring a virtual ceremony to OPRF originated.

“A couple of days later, I was on a socially distant walk with History Division Head Amy Hill, and we swung by Associate Superintendent Greg Johnson’s house just to say hello. The subject turned to school, of course, and out in the street in front of his house, we ended up kicking around ideas for our own virtual event. We took the concept to Dr. Pruitt-Adams and then the rest of the graduation team. Everyone like the idea and contributed great ideas. So it really was a joint effort.” 

Sullivan said administrators are still focused on the Aug. 2 date for an in-person graduation but cautioned that “with circumstances and directives constantly evolving right now, casting anything in stone isn’t possible.” 

She added that in the “next month or two, we’ll have a better idea of how realistic that is. We’ll have a backup plan in case an in-person event in August looks unlikely.” 

The virtual tributes haven’t stopped with graduating seniors. On April 28, the district held OPRF’s first-ever Virtual Honors Convocation in the form of a roughly 30-minute YouTube video that showed the names, photos and distinctions of dozens of honorees. The video ended with a brief message from Associate Supt. Greg Johnson. The virtual ceremony also included a 56-page commemorative program. 

Once the administrative team provided direction, Jackie McGoey, the district’s communications specialist, worked on the convocation’s details for four days straight.  

Susan Johnson said that building administrators on the Transformative Education Leadership Team “wanted to find a way to publicly recognize the students for their accomplishments and since an in-person ceremony would not be able to take place, the next best thing would be to have a video recognizing them individually. That way, at least they can share it out with members of their family, too.”

To watch the Virtual Honors Convocation, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyK9BqWxJEI.

Correction: A previous version of this article misinterpreted a quote by Karin Sullivan. The article has since been updated. WJ regrets the error. 

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