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Springfield, Massachusetts, has decided to let high school graduates walk across an actual stage to receive their diploma, despite COVID-19 restrictions. But it will still be far from the typical ceremony.
Ten years ago, Sandra Hernandez almost lost her son Juan-Carlos to a brain aneurysm. Since then, she said he's struggled with medical issues and depression.
So graduating from high school at Roger L. Putnam Vocational Techical Academy is no small feat, and she was devastated when the school district announced a few weeks ago a virtual graduation.
"To have him overcome so much ...and still fight through and make it, and then to say [he doesn't] even get to walk the stage and have that moment — it's heartbreaking," she said.
Hernandez pointed out that Springfield has a large population of low-income students with difficult home lives.
"It's just like a pride moment or a reward for them saying, 'I did it,' despite what everybody thought, that they weren't gonna make it," she said.
In Springfield, more so than in wealthier districts, "some kids can't afford to go to college, or don't have the push or the drive to go to college," she said. "This is it for them."
Hernandez was among the many parents who made calls and sent messages pleading with Springfield's schools superintendent Dan Warwick for a real-life graduation.
"We knew where the parents were coming from," Warwick said. "I read every one of the e-mails."
At the same time, he said, many students live in dense Springfield neighborhoods where the COVID-19 caseload is high. So Warwick worked with the city health department on a plan that still allows students to cross a platform in cap and gown, and gives families the chance to take pictures.
The compromise? Every principal in the district's eight high schools agreed to schedule individual ceremonies with every family.
"And so — like, at Central High School — the principal is going to set up 450 individual appointments over time, so that we don't have crowds of folks together, and put people in danger," Warwick said. "So it is going to be a tremendous amount of work."
Nevertheless, since nearby Chicopee pulled off a similar version of graduation, Warwick said he feels confident it's doable.
Hernandez said she's still waiting for details from her son's school.
"Apparently, every school is going to plan their own little thing," she said. "So, hopefully, I get to see my son at least get his diploma in his hands — not in the mail."
Warwick said the previously planned virtual graduations will still be livestreamed and broadcast on public access TV the first two weeks of June.
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