North KC School District preparing for virtual graduation ceremonies

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. —  The ongoing pandemic won’t ruin one important rite of passage.

Students in the North Kansas City School District will participate in a virtual graduation ceremony, a pre-recorded observance meant to limit crowd size.

On Thursday, Winnetonka High School students recorded their commencement speeches and other elements that will be included in an online presentation.

The school auditorium seats were empty, but students know they’ll have a large audience when the ceremony is played back on the school district’s YouTube channel.

“The Class of 2020 is resilient,” one student commencement speaker said, addressing a series of cameras.

More than 1,500 seniors from all four North Kansas City high schools will move their tassels in ceremonies like this one. It’s the school district’s effort to accommodate large audiences while keeping social distancing guidelines in mind.

“Today, when the first student came in with their cap and gown, I had to leave,” said Dr. Eric Johnson, Winnetonka High School principal. 

Hallways and classrooms at Winnetonka High have been empty since March 13, as this student body left for spring break — and never came back. The mid-semester break coincided with the city’s stay-at-home orders, and schools were shut down indefinitely.

“To have their senior year, the second semester halted in the way it was made them go through a roller coaster of emotions. They try to remain strong because that’s what defines this class,” Johnson said.

“It’s kind of like fixing the scars we had from going through a lot and now receiving that love and knowing people really care about us,” said Jaelee Pittel, a graduating Winnetonka senior.

“I’m thankful that we still get a graduation and everyone still gets recognized and honors are being received. The bitter part of it is we’re not able to walk across that stage and hug everyone,” said Maya Smith, another graduating Winnetonka senior.

“This isn’t something to do because they feel bad. It’s something they’re doing because they believe we deserve to have this,” Pittel added.

The North Kansas City School District provided this schedule for their virtual graduation ceremonies, which will be seen on the school district’s YouTube page.

  • North Kansas City — May 26, 7 p.m.
  • Winnetonka — May 27, 7 p.m.
  • Oak Park — May 28, 6:30 p.m.
  • Staley — May 29, 6:30 p.m.

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