By Camila Dos Santos, M. Ed., Program Coordinator of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Social distancing guidelines have forced high school seniors all over the country to sacrifice their typical graduation and end-of-year celebrations.  While adhering to social distancing guidelines is crucial to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact of these lifestyle changes has caused many teens to give up on important milestones and rites of passage and has many parents and families lost about how to celebrate their special graduate during this time.

In this article, we will explore different ways to highlight and celebrate your high school senior while still abiding by social distancing guidelines.

  • Use technology to help your high school senior connect with friends. Social distancing has left many of us feeling isolated and alone, including graduating high school seniors who have been looking forward to the social activities and celebrations that often mark the end of one’s high school career. Since we know that teens rely heavily on their social circles for help coping with difficult events and figuring out their social identities, helping your teen find ways to keep in touch with their outside social circles is a great way to help them stay emotionally balanced and connected throughout this time. Encouraging your teen to set up Zoom conference calls with friends and classmates or being more flexible with screen time restrictions in your home will help them maintain some sort of social normalcy throughout this time.
  • Host a virtual commencement for your graduate. A virtual celebration will ensure that your graduate’s accomplishment does not go unnoticed by loved ones who may not be physically present with you.  While nothing can replace the feeling of receiving a diploma in front of family and friends, a virtual commencement can help your graduate feel recognized, while allowing the entire family to celebrate their big moment.   Get creative with your virtual graduation celebration by having loved ones prepare signs, record videos, or write letters of congratulations that they can share during the virtual event. The more seriously you take this virtual event, the more special your teen will feel. Some ideas to “legitimize” your celebration can include having everyone dress up for the occasion, volunteering a family member to provide the keynote speech, and creating a mock diploma that your teen can receive on screen. Some high schools are even offering virtual commencement opportunities for their students, so be sure you are staying connected with your graduate’s school in case this is an option.
  • Ask teachers and other influential adults to join in on the celebrations. There are countless adults that contribute to a teen’s high school career and in a normal world, most of these adults, such as teachers, coaches, and advisors, would participate in any end-of-year celebrations with your teen. Seeking out those that were important in your teen’s story will keep them from losing sight of the support system they have outside of their homes. Asking influential adults to write a short letter, or record a short video, for your teen will help them feel special during a time when graduates are not being recognized as they normally would. You can even consider working together to host a video call for special groups, such as sports teams or clubs, to help your teen stay connected to their extracurricular activities as well.
  • Find other ways to form lasting memories with your graduating teen.  We may be unable to create traditional memories around graduations, proms, and other end-of-year activities, such as by having parties, taking pictures at their graduation ceremony, or taking a family vacation to celebrate your teen, but there are still ways to be creative about forming special memories for your graduate. Some examples include setting up an at-home photo shoot for your graduate, where they dress up in their cap and gown or creating a vision board together that outlines their goals for the future. By finding ways to create memories together, you are not only bonding with your graduate, but you are also helping your teen form positive memories that they can take with them into their future.
  • Talk about the future together. While the future is still uncertain, it can be beneficial for all of us to spend some time thinking about the things we will want to accomplish or focus on when life resumes some sort of normalcy, especially for graduates who may feel as if the options and goals they were planning for may be out of reach. Spend some time with your graduate and talk about what they hope for beyond the pandemic. This will help you gain perspective into how your graduate is coping overall and will also help your graduate think ahead and avoid losing sight of the things that were important to them before the pandemic. HRI provides some conversation starters that help teens and parents learn more about one another’s perspectives and ideas, but in general, any conversations about your graduate’s future will help them feel special and recognized during a time when they are giving up on so many important milestones.

Even though we are living in uncertain times and many teens are having to sacrifice special moments associated with finishing high school, there are many ways that parents and loved ones can recognize and celebrate their high school graduates.  It may require some creativity and intentionality but is worthwhile during a time when graduates are giving up so much.


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