After a year of uncertainty and apprehensive hope, the California Department of Public Health officially approved outdoor, COVID-19 compliant graduation ceremonies. Consequently, on Friday, June 11 at 11 a.m., Urban seniors will be concluding and commemorating their high school years at Kezar Stadium.
Graduation regulations depend on the tiers of each respective California county. As of May 4, 2021, San Francisco has been in the yellow tier, and is one of only fifteen counties in California to move to that final reopening tier. In this tier, up to 200 people can attend outdoor events, or 400 if everyone shows proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
In typical years, Urban graduations have taken place at Stern Grove. The official announcement that graduation ceremonies could resume this year came with very specific safety guidelines that determined whether a venue could be used or not. Social distancing, masks, attendee capacity limitations and disinfection between events were all factors that contributed to venue decisions. Although Urban initially pursued Stern Grove, the San Francisco Department of Public Health and the Parks Department ruled out the location because there was no way to monitor access and control entrances.
In order to ensure that Urban would be able to hold a graduation ceremony, three venues in three different counties were reserved in case the San Francisco COVID-19 regulations changed. However, Urban Head of School Dan Miller explained in an interview with The Urban Legend that proximity to Urban was important, and in the end, Kezar Stadium was approved by the city and is a place that the community is familiar with.
Emilia Caya Blonkenfeld ‘21 said that “although it definitely doesn’t look like the Urban graduation we were all hoping to graduate with… I think we are all grateful that [graduation] has been made a priority.” She also said that, had a graduation ceremony been off the table, “[the seniors] would have not really been surprised, so the fact that it is happening in some capacity just makes us feel so good.”
Aside from socially distanced seating and fewer guests per graduate, Urban is working to preserve as many of the components of a traditional Urban graduation as possible. The music and speaker program will be continued, and for people who are not able to attend, the ceremony will be live-streamed and recorded. Although students will only be allowed to bring up to 4 guests, teachers and staff will be able to attend, which was a question that had crossed the minds of many twelfth graders.
Many large public high schools, including Lowell, Balboa, and Wallenberg, held their graduation ceremonies at Kezar Stadium. San Francisco University High School hosted a ceremony at Paul Goode Field on June 7, with each graduate allowed to bring up to 5 guests. Lick Wilmerding held a fully in-person graduation at Oracle Park on May 29, with each graduate able to invite up to 6 guests and a limited number of teachers were in attendance. Marin Academy seniors graduated on their soccer field, and Bay held a ceremony across the street from their Presidio campus on May 22. Each graduating student was allowed to bring up to 6 people and could take off their masks to walk across the stage as long as they were fully vaccinated.
Miller, in conversation about expectations for the Urban 2021 graduation, said, “I’m incredibly grateful and relieved we will have this opportunity; it’s such an emotionally resonant moment of closure for seniors, families, and the faculty and staff— this year more than ever.”
Caya Blonkenfeld said, in conversation about how the pandemic has changed her view on graduation, that “it’s kind of just changed what it’s about… I feel like graduations are usually about going your separate ways, but I think this year’s graduation is a lot more about us being able to come together as a whole grade, which we haven’t done in like so long.”
Following a primarily virtual Urban graduation in 2020 and as we wait in a pandemic limbo, somewhere in between online and normal lives, the opportunity to host an in-person ceremony this year is extremely gratifying for the entire Urban community. Sharing a similar sentiment, Miller concluded the interview by saying, “given the resilience and extended goodwill of so many in the community over the past 12 months, this outdoor graduation feels like a reward.”