As the Florida Keys emerge from a pandemic that a year ago shuttered celebrations that are normally considered a staple of American adolescence, area high schools are planning on holding ceremonies next month that won’t quite look pre-pandemic, but closer than last year’s.
All Florida Keys high schools report they will be holding in-person graduations and proms in late May, and while their student bodies are excited and grateful, masks and social distancing will still be in effect. Both schools will also be holding student scholarship nights in-person.
“They’re happy for this because they saw what last year’s group went through,” said Marathon High School Principal Wendy McPherson.
Key West High School will hold an investiture ceremony at 7 p.m. on May 21 in the Back Yard. Class Night to give out scholarships and awards will be held at 7 p.m. on May 26, also in the Back Yard. Graduation will be at 7 p.m. May 28 at the Key West Amphitheater. It will be similar to a normal graduation ceremony, with students walking across a stage. Students will be given six tickets each.
“The best part of this is, we truly do appreciate the traditional activities that are taking place and it’s really put, for our seniors, a lot of things to celebrate in perspective,” said Key West High School Principal Christina McPherson.
The events are ticketed for guests with limited seating. Masks and social distancing protocols will be in place. Senior prom is at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Gardens, an outdoor venue, for seniors only with safety protocols in place.
Marathon will be holding its graduation ceremony on a stage set up on the athletic field and parents will bring their own seating to watch. Students will be given a number of tickets coinciding with how many people can fit on the field under social distancing guidelines.
Likewise, Coral Shores will be holding graduation on its athletic field, with parents required to bring seating. It is scheduled for 8 p.m. May 26, with a rehearsal for students at 9 o’clock that morning, followed by a student barbecue. At this time, Coral Shores Principal Blake Fry said each student is to be assigned four tickets, but more could be allowed as the school continues to assess how many people can be accommodated at the field.
Fry said that when the school was in its former building graduation was always held outside and that those ceremonies in the 1980s and ‘90s went well generally.
Prom at Coral Shores will be on May 22 and is only for juniors and seniors at the school in order to keep the crowd down.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to make it as normal as possible,” Fry said.
The gym, cafeteria and courtyard will be used for the prom. Fry said masks will be used at all times except when attendees are eating. A D.J. will be situated in the gym.
Fry said that his student body has been “absolutely remarkable” and “done everything we’ve asked” in terms of mitigating the pandemic. He said the students are aware that their actions during a normal school day will have an impact on the end-of-year celebrations.
Last year’s group was not so lucky.
“Everything was off the table. We shut down immediately and had a virtual graduation and senior night,” Fry said. Prom was also canceled outright.
Later in the year, Fry said students were surveyed on if they wanted to have some sort of in-person ceremony with precautions in place and they opted not to do so. He expects that the Class of 2020 officers could have a reunion earlier than expected to make up for the time lost to coronavirus. Asked if he thought the pandemic could have an effect on the way future classes celebrate, Fry said it is too early to tell.
“I’m sure large gatherings in general are going to be looked at in a different way. Who knows down the road?” he said.
But he does see next school year at least being much more traditional, as most adults who work in the building are already vaccinated.
“We see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Marathon will be holding a similar type of prom in their cafeteria and courtyard. It will be in its normal hours of 8 p.m. to midnight and is titled “Under the Moonlight.” Social distancing will be required, even while dancing, as well as masks.
Last year’s seniors at Marathon had a virtual graduation and then in June had a modified in-person event on the athletic field. McPherson said students at the high school have been diligent about protocols, especially since one event has already had to be curtailed because of the virus.
McPherson is more confident that the virus and its lingering effects will not have an impact on future school years or celebrations.
“We expect to look more and more normal next year. We’re all excited to get back to normal business,” she said.