Students collect 13,000 signatures to demand graduation ceremonies

Online petitions beg school district to reconsider cancellations

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St. Johns County seniors have collected more than 13,000 signatures on three online petitions to ask the school district to reconsider its plan to cancel high school graduation ceremonies.

All three petitions ask that graduations be rescheduled rather than completed in a virtual format.

“The seniors of 2020 deserve to walk across the stage for their accomplishments and success throughout their schooling,” St. Augustine High senior Jillian LaValley posted on change.org. “It is unfair to simply cancel normal ceremonies and move the graduation to virtual premises because the seniors are unable to experience what every other person has been able to feel. Virtual graduation is extremely unrealistic as there isn’t even a plan. Please take the minds of the seniors into consideration before taking away an experience of a lifetime. Postponing graduation will allow seniors to eventually experience the ceremony they deserve.”

The district said the uncertainty of COVID-19 – and the restrictions that are in place to fight it – made it too difficult to reschedule.

Superintendent Tim Forson canceled the annual rite of passage on April 2, calling it a “difficult decision.”

He said the fact the University of North Florida Arena wouldn’t be available and the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 left him with few options.

“The UNF arena is no longer available and I believe our high schools need to be consistent in how we celebrate the Class of 2020,” Forson said on the district’s website. “In addition, COVID-19 could still be a threat into the summer, we simply do not know. Your school will communicate virtual graduation plans as soon as they are finalized.”

Currently, St. Johns County, along with the State of Florida, with the CDC and Florida Department of Health, have limited all gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

Ponte Vedra High’s Aiden Stavros posted a message on LaValley’s site, saying: “I am a high school student who has worked extremely hard the last four years for one moment: graduation, and by canceling graduation the school is not recognizing all the hard work that all 450 PVHS students did!!!”

Anna Jacobson, who attends Menendez High, said she understands the importance of distancing and taking precautions against the coronavirus, but she’d rather the school district simply postpone graduation ceremonies until a later date – even if it’s in mid-summer.

“Graduation has officially been canceled and it is devastating news to students and families,” her petition states. “Us seniors, who have been working towards graduation since elementary school are completely heartbroken over this decision to cancel graduation. We worked so hard these past years to ensure the privilege of walking across that stage, and now it has been taken away from us. We deserve to be properly recognized for our hard work, and an online graduation is not what we deserve.

“We intend to stand up and fight for what we deserve, which is a proper graduation. We understand this was a hard decision on the school board but, we believe it was taken [too] early. We ask for the school board and superintendent to re-evaluate their decision and postpone graduation instead of changing it to online only. Even if we had to push it back until June or July, that would be better than a virtual graduation.”

Grace Long agreed.

“We don’t know how long this COVID-19 virus is going to last, but I do know that we should at least try to hold this ceremony since it is a huge part in everyone’s life,” she posted. “The virus could clear up soon for all we know and then we would have cancelled the graduation for no reason. I hope this petition convinces the school board with all of our signatures to hold the graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 at a later date!”

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