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A graduation season for the history books

edison graduationIt’s been more than 100 years since San Antonio school buildings closed in the face of a pandemic. The Spanish Flu prompted the San Antonio Board of Health to vote to close all schools and ban all public gatherings on Oct. 16, 1918. Fast forward to March 13, 2020, and students throughout San Antonio heard a similar message about a new coronavirus spreading across the globe and which was just beginning to affect their city.

While San Antonio reopened by the end of December in 1918, students in 2020 were not able to return to in-person instruction for the rest of the school year because of COVID-19. Following nine weeks of virtual classrooms, miraculously prepared in a matter of days, the Class of 2020 began to fear the unthinkable – a graduation from home in front of a computer.

pull out quoteOn May 5, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that graduation ceremonies in Texas would be allowed with certain restraints, such as following social distancing protocols and using outdoor venues. By May 18, SAISD announced in-person graduations would go on. It was one of only a few local districts selecting the outdoor option.

Dr. Judith Solis, assistant superintendent, led a team to plan June commencement events at Alamo Stadium, an iconic facility in which SAISD students have been creating memories for 80 years. 

“There is not a more traditional setting for our Class of 2020 to commemorate their final moments as SAISD students,” wrote Superintendent Pedro Martinez in a letter to all seniors.

In any given year, planning more than a dozen graduations is a massive undertaking; but in a pandemic year, critical health and safety details made the coordination a painstaking endeavor. 

Chairs for the seniors were spaced 6 feet apart, and red dots marked the areas where audience members could safely watch from the stands. Masks were worn, and in some cases, were designed to commemorate the occasion – an effort reminiscent of the tradition of decorating graduation caps.

Solis put a lot of care into the plans to keep students, their families, and staff members safe – and she was moved when she saw everyone respecting the guidelines put in place.

“When I looked up into the stands and saw all the people perfectly positioned at their red dots, I was pleased to see that everything was playing out as planned,” she said. “I got emotional.”

In addition to the thorough preparation around public health precautions, ceremonies were scheduled at 8:30 a.m. or 8 p.m. to avoid the Texas heat. 

Shortly after sunrise and right at dusk, the ceremonies were held against the San Antonio skyline. More than 2,800 seniors had the opportunity to cross the stage while two of their family members witnessed their transition from student to graduate.

“Getting to see the seniors’ smiles when they walked the stage was the most gratifying part,” Solis said. “It was priceless.”

While the Class of 2020 had a traditional closing to an untraditional senior year after all, the events leading up to and surrounding their graduations will go down in history.

Reflecting on the severity of the pandemic locally, Solis remarked about the teamwork she has seen across the District in responding to the crisis.

“The effort is in everything we are doing,” said Solis. “This is part of our story.”


Click here for the Class of 2020 Celebration page

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