VBCPS Communities Petition For Graduation Ceremony


Laura Lemm, Human Resources recruiter and mother to VBCPS students, created a petition to try and allow her daughter to have an in-person graduation ceremony.

Mylynn Hopper, Staff Writer

High school seniors experience an abundance of emotions as the school year comes to an end. The stress of preparing for the future as they look into college, joining the workforce, or whatever path they may choose to progress with, the sadness of growing up, moving on, and leaving the past behind, and especially the excitement of moving forward, starting a new chapter in life, and, most importantly, graduating from high school. As many important events approach, graduation is the most notable of them all, as it is a ceremony of success and recognition of all the hard work a student dedicates to school that celebrates the completion of their endeavors. However, the momentous occasion that many students looked forward to may not be coming for the Class of 2020.


Due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus that has been invading the nation, many states have called for schools to close and events such as prom to be cancelled. As the states go on lockdown, orders such as these are being made in an effort to decrease the gathering of large groups of people in close, contained areas. 


The future of the Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony is unclear.  While the school division has said that seniors on the path for graduation will still graduate, the ceremony is still up for discussion, with Dr. Aaron Spence, superintendent, sayingit is [VBCPS’] intention to do something for graduation that is both memorable and safe” in a March 26 letter to families. 


However, many Virginia Beach students and families are concerned about the potential cancellation – or virtual alternative – of such meaningful events. 


Senior Ryle Lancaster is one of many students who describes herself as feeling disappointed and frustrated upon hearing events such as prom cancelled, and amidst the uncertainty around the future of graduation. 


“Honestly, I’ve just worked so hard for so long,” Lancaster said.


Senior Sara Lemm has also been looking forward to graduation for a long time. 


“I was really upset,” she said. “I’ve been to prom before, so that was less upsetting than graduation, but I’ve waited so long to be able to walk the stage and graduate since I was in the first grade. Everyone worked so hard to get here and wants that rewarding moment, but it feels like it’s gone now.” 


Meanwhile, while Senior Brandon Scott also felt the same way that Lancaster and Lemm did, wanting to celebrate their hard work with graduation, he was also concerned about how its cancellation might affect others. 


“Thought it docked for a lot of people that purchased stuff,” Scott said. 


“Know this is for your safety and fight for our opportunities but be considerate and patient with the situation. At least be grateful the precautions are so serious for our wellbeing and be hopeful for the end!” Ryle Lancaster, 18, tells students who looked forward to having a graduation ceremony at the end of year.

Some families and students have taken to creating and signing petitions, pleading the school district to “postpone rather than cancel” milestone events. One such petition, on Change.org, is working its way up to 4,000 signatures, out of its 5,000 person goal.  


 Scott felt good upon learning about the petitions, as he said that it was nice seeing people take a stand. 


Lancaster heard about the petitions through social media and plans to spread the word using platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. 


 “I have a pretty decent following so I use it for…causes I believe in,” Lancaster said. 


Lemm also learned about the petitions through her friends and their parents sharing them on social media. However, Lemm also has a more personal connection to one of the petitions that have been going around. 


“I also know a couple of the parents who started these petitions. My mom actually created one that currently has about 3,470 signatures,” Lemm said.


Laura Lemm, Human Resources recruiter and Sara’s mom, is one of the parents in the community who decided to create a petition in an effort to get graduation back for the students. 


Lemm, like many parents, was disappointed by the decision to cancel graduation. 


“This is a big year for our family because our older daughter is graduating high school and our younger daughter is finishing elementary school. We had been looking forward to celebrating these milestones,” Lemm said. 


Lemm was inspired to make the petition to give power back to the people during these times of uncertainty. 


“The current pandemic situation is scary and leaves us all feeling somewhat powerless. At the time I started the petition, things had just started happening and at that time it seemed that one thing we can do from home is speak up about how things were unfolding. I felt it was important that every effort be made to avoid taking the easy way out by just cancelling. I hope enough people speaking up would pressure the school system to take their time to try to make alternate plans to just cancelling,” Lemm said. 


Lemm created the petition with the website Change.org. Through the website, Lemm was able to make and distribute her petition to others. 


“Change.org has great social media sharing tools and I leveraged those, reaching out to various parent leaders to help get it out on their social media too,” Lemm said. 


As a parent, graduation is important to Lemm because it allows the family to come together and celebrate such a momentous occasion.


“Just hang in there and keep your head up. Don’t give up hope yet,” Sara Lemm, 17, encourages students who were looking forward to graduation.

“It’s important to celebrate milestones, and we  were looking forward to gathering extended family for the event. Graduation is one of the big milestones people go out of their way for and it’s great to get family together for those celebrations.” 


However, due to the current state of things, various plans such as family gatherings that were to happen after the graduation ceremony, have been called off for many, as well.


“I had family coming from Florida, California, and Idaho. It was gonna be a reunion for family I haven’t seen in a decade,” Lancaster said. 


“It’s my sister’s year to “graduate” 5th grade too, so after graduation we were planning on going on a vacation or planning a party to celebrate both of us moving on to college/middle school,” Sara Lemm said. 


Scott also had plans to hang out with his friends for graduation. 


Although having to cancel graduation is a disappointing thought for most people, everyone understands that the decision was made for the safety of the community. Still, through  the power of the petitions being shared online, students and parents alike are still hopeful about the impact they might have on the decision. 


“I hope they work and the school board sees them and decides to plan these events for a different date once everything calms down,” Sara Lemm said.


“I want milestones rescheduled despite the inconvenience to those in charge because our experience is crucially important once the terms are safe,” Lancaster said. 


Scott hopes that everyone is satisfied with the end result of the petitions.


 I hope to see an announcement of an alternate plan,” Laura Lemm said. 


Until then, students and families can only wait to see the outcome of their petitions as time moves forward.