Relaxing COVID restrictions enable a more normal (but still different) graduation

Patrick Jacobson

Principal David Sondheim will take the stage once again to congratulate students this year, as he did in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Alex Polidora)
The amphitheater will remain empty during this year’s graduation, as it was deemed an unsuitable venue given pandemic event restrictions.

As another year at Redwood comes to an end, the school will say goodbye to the class of 2021 at their graduation ceremony on June 11. Last year, the class of 2020 graduated during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and certain compromises had to be made in order to give the seniors an in-person sendoff. However, while the pandemic is still ongoing, there are some significant differences between this and last year’s ceremonies. 2021’s celebration is closer to the traditional format, made possible by relaxed state health guidelines and meticulous planning from student leadership. 

Last June’s graduation was, in many ways, an unprecedented event. The ceremony took place at the Marin Civic Center and was divided into three sessions due to space limitations. Students were required to drive into the staging area, and instead of leaving their cars to receive their diploma, the graduates’ photos were shown on a large projector screen. Guests were limited to whoever students could fit into their vehicles. 

This year, graduates will be seated together on the football field as one group and walk across a stage to receive their diplomas. Per state COVID-19 regulations, masks will still be required, but social distancing can be relaxed from six feet to three. Students will be allowed to invite up to four guests. Anyone unable to attend in-person can watch the event through a live streaming service the school is hiring for the event, according to Principal David Sondheim. Working with student leadership, Sondheim prioritized having the entire class graduate together. 

“One of the major features that the graduating class really wanted was to be together as a senior class,” Sondheim said. “And the football field is the place where we can make that happen.”

The football field, however, is still not the traditional location for graduation ceremonies. The traditional approach is to hold the event at the amphitheater facing the south lawn, and have the graduating class celebratorily walk up and over the hill behind it to mark the end of their high school career. Senior class president Sima Alavi, however, says that that venue was unrealistic due to incompatibility with current COVID-19 restrictions.

“When things were opening up and looking better, we came down to two options: the amphitheater and football field,” Alavi said. “And the reason we really pushed for the football field was because it was [the only place] large enough for everything to be held in one session. If we picked the amphitheater we would have had to divide up into two sessions, and while the amphitheater does have a special magic to it, being all together in one session was really important to us.”

Though not in the traditional location, 2021’s graduation ceremonies will still have all customary events, including live talent-show performances from students. One such performance will be the national anthem, however others are yet to be revealed, and will not be until graduation. 

According to Alavi, although seniors took a survey to find out what they would like for graduation, nobody outside of leadership and school administration was directly involved in the decision-making process. But senior Walker Frisbie is still satisfied with the way the process has been handled.

“I really like what [leadership] is trying to do,” Frisbie said. “I was expecting something more restricted, maybe half the class at a time, with no guests … so I was actually pleasantly surprised with how much they actually got done for the ceremony and I’m really excited for it.”

Graduation will be held on Friday, June 11, from 2 to 5 p.m. Further details regarding the live stream will be announced soon.