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Honoring year-end activities: How to prepare for graduation and prom during a pandemic

April 16, 2020

Many K-12 schools are postponing final decisions and announcements about end-of-year events like graduation or prom because they often aren’t scheduled until May or June. This has left many school leaders unsure what to do about these important events.

Seniors should get to say goodbye to their classmates and teachers prior to their postgraduation plans. Not only does it allow them to connect with the school community that played a key role in their formative years, but it also provides them the opportunity to give and receive much-needed support during these challenging times.

EAB has compiled advice from several school leaders about how to handle important events like prom and graduation.

Communicate often and commit to honoring end-of-year activities, despite uncertainty

Even though school leaders can’t guarantee specifics, use synchronous, virtual communication platforms (i.e., Zoom) to communicate a commitment to these celebratory events for seniors now. School leaders should dedicate specific communication about these events to acknowledge their importance and continue to keep students informed as plans are updated.

Consider options for rescheduling events later in the summer or next school year

While reopening timelines remain uncertain, school leaders should plan for the potential of being able to reschedule celebratory events as early as this summer. According to school leaders EAB interviewed, here’s some advice when planning for this potential:

Communicate with venues for events not scheduled to occur on campus to determine flexibility in rescheduling dates or the potential for cancellation.


Negotiate with all vendors to minimize financial losses. Some vendors will allow deposits to be applied to next year to secure your business.

Person with computer

Survey students and families on their availability before selecting a future date(s) to host celebratory events. This helps ensure that students and families will be able to attend.

Aim to give community members several weeks’ notice if your school is cancelling or postponing an event.

Plan for the need to limit event attendance in case rescheduled dates require restrictions on the number of people who can attend.

If reopening dates extend too late into the summer, when students pursue their postgraduation plans, consider rescheduling in-person graduation ceremonies when many students return home. Thanksgiving break, winter break, or even the end of the next school year may be great options.

Offer virtual alternatives if reopening dates are delayed into late summer or fall

If it’s impossible to reschedule an in-person celebration in the next few months, schools should consider virtual celebrations instead (or in addition to rescheduled events next year).

Use video conferencing to hold a virtual prom


Percent of seniors joined the virtual prom at a school in Texas
Percent of seniors joined the virtual prom at a school in Texas

A school in Texas used Zoom to virtually celebrate prom. The school paid a DJ—who was scheduled for the original prom—for an hour to take song requests from students using Zoom’s chat function. Students could opt to turn on their videos (many did and wore their prom outfits), but everyone remained muted to avoid interfering with the music.

Nearly 80 percent of seniors joined the virtual prom, and most students shared appreciation for those who organized the event. However, schools should cautiously monitor zoom links so that only invited students can join.

Allow students to get creative with video game platforms like Minecraft

Students at Midlothian and Cosby High Schools organized a virtual graduation in Minecraft, the 3D sandbox video game. Similarly, students at the University of Georgia built a virtual replica of the university’s football stadium in Minecraft so seniors could experience graduation in a familiar setting.

Two other creative ideas EAB has heard about include streaming the virtual graduation ceremony at a drive-in movie theater, and seniors parading decorated cars through the school parking lot to celebrate commencement.

Check out the Louisiana DOE’s virtual graduation guide

The Louisiana Department of Education published this guide to help schools host graduation amid COVID-19. The guide recommends ways to personalize a virtual graduation, such as streaming guest speakers or honored graduates, creating slide shows, and/or featuring student-made videos. The guide also recommends ways to ensure all students, parents, and guests can access graduation and provides a list of platforms to host virtual graduations.

Use already-scheduled virtual engagement opportunities to refine the virtual experience for formal events

Administrators should troubleshoot technical issues during already planned virtual assemblies or group meetings to prepare for more formal events, such as graduation and prom. To refine the virtual experience, use existing platforms like your LMS to survey staff, students, and parents for feedback on the experience after every virtual gathering. 

Use these connection moments to surface ideas from your school community on how to make these events more engaging in a virtual setting.

Ask seniors what they want for future virtual celebrations

Schools should ask seniors to propose events that they would find engaging, rather than organizing events that may not appeal to seniors. A school in Virginia is using a Google doc to allow interested seniors to collaborate.

Alternatively, some schools are hosting focus groups or surveying seniors to determine which events are most important to them. This is especially important for senior classes that have fundraised for events like prom and might need to decide how to redeploy these funds to a different-in-kind event.

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