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Saluting the class of 2020: Local high schools, parents find ways to celebrate graduating seniors

For Sycamore High School Principal Tim Carlson, the last three months of the 2019-20 school year have been difficult.

Decisions to cancel prom and postpone graduation were challenging for Carlson not only as a principal, but also as a father: His daughter Kylei Carlson is a senior at Sycamore High School.

“I’m very disappointed and it’s very emotional for everyone involved,” Carlson said. “This is probably the hardest thing that’s ever happened in our students’ lives. We are living through an unprecedented historical time. I have no doubt that our 328 graduating seniors will go on to have great lives, success and stories to tell their families as they get older. We just have to find ways to congratulate and celebrate their high school academic success now.”

To celebrate senior classes and to honor essential workers, DeKalb, Sycamore, Genoa-Kingston, Hiawatha and Kaneland school districts have been participating in Friday night lights ceremonies at their football fields.

Each of the schools has created congratulatory graduation yard signs that seniors could place at home. Sycamore High School has placed a large banner with photos of graduating seniors outside the school.

To honor the Hiawatha High School class of 2020, Spanish teacher Brad Salley bought yard signs for each of the seniors, and a banner for each student will be hung on light poles and displayed along Route 72 in Kirkland. The banners are sponsored by Kirkland Lions Club, Kirkland Chamber of Commerce, village of Kirkland/Public Works, Braden Counseling, Ryan Braden Insurance Agency and six families.

“Something positive really does help make a difference, whether it’s the lights at the football field on our new scoreboards or yard signs,” said Jacqui Finch, mom of DeKalb senior Isabella Finch and vice president of the DHS Sports Boosters. “It’s important for our senior class to know that the community supports them at this time. This is a tough time for everyone; it’s really heartbreaking.”

Celebrating graduations virtually

High schools throughout DeKalb County plan on hosting virtual graduation ceremonies, with tentative dates set in the summer for in-person commencement.

Genoa-Kingston’s ceremony has been tentatively set for July 26.

“Be it traditional or virtual or some combination of the two, students will be wearing caps and gowns and honored by our district,” G-K Principal Angelo Lekkas said. “We are working on a video tribute to be released by their original graduation date. Yard signs abound, and we thank our community for all their support of students.”

Hiawatha seniors will have a virtual graduation ceremony at 5:30 p.m. May 22. An in-person service will be planned at a later date.

On May 23, the original date of DHS’s graduation, a virtual slideshow video will be released to the community to honor about 500 students graduating this year.

A ceremony will be at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 if in-person gatherings of that size are allowed at that time. If large gatherings are not permitted, students can participate in a drive-up graduation at DHS, where they will have their photo taken in front of the bell and receive a diploma. Either graduation ceremony will be recorded to create a video.

“It’s important to have some type of ceremony, even if not in person, to properly recognize these students for all of their hard work and academic success,” said DeKalb Superintendent Jamie Craven. “Graduation is an important milestone in a student’s academic career. Graduation weekends have become a community event, with family receptions, graduation parties and socializing with one another.

“Graduation, spring musicals, concerts, sports, honors nights, prom – all of that has been lost,” Craven said. “The least we can do as a school district, as a community, is find a way to recognize and honor the students.”

Indian Creek will release a virtual graduation video at 7 p.m. May 29, the original date of the school’s commencement ceremony. An in-person event has been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 8.

The school has 52 graduating seniors, one valedictorian and three salutatorians. The students plan on using their remaining senior class funds, which would have been used for graduation or class activities, for a reunion at a later date.

“Our graduating seniors are in a very unique situation, and we hope nothing like this ever happens again,” Principal Sarah Montgomery said. “I think everything our students have gone through has taught them resiliency. They know how to persevere and will go on and do great things.”

Sycamore High School will have a virtual graduation ceremony at 2 p.m. May 24. If guidance allows, there will be free graduation photos taken on campus in July and a reception Aug. 2.

“Our top priority is safety, and we want all of our seniors to have safe celebrations,” Sycamore Superintendent Kathy Countryman said. “It’s disappointing that their last year of school is not ending exactly the way anyone wanted it to. I hope they have amazing, long-lasting memories of their whole time in Sycamore, that their friendships last forever and that they stay connected.”

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