By Bob Skolnik
Eighth-graders at Komarek School in North Riverside and at St. Mary's School in Riverside will be the only area grade-schoolers this year to graduate in person.
But even those two ceremonies will be very different as schools make adjustments to maintain state-mandated social distancing requirements established to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Both Komarek and St. Mary's will have versions of a drive-up graduation. Komarek will hold its graduation at Veterans Park in North Riverside on Saturday, May 30, while St. Mary's eighth-graders will graduate from their cars in the St. Mary's parking lot on June 3.
"I felt the realness was important," said Komarek Principal Jason Gold of the decision to hold an in-person graduation ceremony this year. "That our students deserve a graduation, an in-person graduation, respecting the guidelines by ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education). We wanted to make it happen."
The event will start with a car parade from Komarek to Veterans Park at 10 a.m. on May 30. Each family is being encouraged to decorate their car with balloons and signs celebrating their graduate. Once at Veterans Park, each family will park their vehicle in a designated space in the lot. If a family does not have a car, Komarek will provide one for the event.
"We'll figure out if one of the administration can take them or if there's a teacher who wants to help out," Gold said.
The graduation will occur in the parking lot, where there will be speeches by the mayors of North Riverside and Broadview. The graduates and their families will be required to stay in their cars until the graduate's name is called.
When the name is called, the graduate will get out of his car and walk to a tent where a diploma cover will be waiting on a table. The graduate will pick up the diploma cover and then walk over to a photography tent where a photographer will take photos.
Graduates will be required to wear face coverings when they walk to get their diploma cover, but they can take their mask off for the photos. After the photos are taken the graduate must return to the family car. Parents and family members will be required to stay inside their cars throughout the event.
Komarek eighth-graders will pick up their actual diplomas on May 26 when the school will be open for them to claim any personal belongings left behind when schools were shut down in March.
St. Mary's will hold a drive-in graduation on June 2. It will unfold on a jumbo screen set up in the St. Mary's parking lot and in-car audio will be provided.
Others to host virtual commencement
Other area public schools in the area are opting for virtual graduations this year. Eighth-graders at L.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside will graduate virtually on May 26.
The format will be similar to an in-person graduation, with families receiving a video that will include prerecorded speeches and teachers reading out the names of every graduate. As the graduate's name is read, their graduation photo will be shown.
Eighth graders at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield will pick up their diplomas on June 1 in a drive-thru procedure. The graduation ceremony itself will be held online later that evening online.
"It will look very similar to the experience that they would get when we do it in RB's gymnasium," said S.E. Gross Principal Ryan Evans.
A graduation video is also being prepared for the eighth-graders of George Washington Middle School. The video will be distributed on June 3 and will include class photos as well as messages from teachers, the student council president and the valedictorian.
GWMS graduates will physically pick up their diplomas on May 26 when students can come to the school to pick up any personal belongings left at the school. Some teachers will be on hand to wave goodbye to the students.
Park Junior High School will be holding a virtual graduation on June 3.