Celebrations in the Time of COVID


Yesterday was my birthday.


I tell you this mainly because tracking the date is the only way I actually know what day it is anymore. It was a momentous occasion, spent safe at home, complete with a family FaceTime call so my siblings could chime in and remind me how old I am now.


Over the past weeks we’ve seen parents get creative, staging drive-by and online birthday parties so their children can find some semblance of normality. My sixth grader nephew celebrated in this way, giggling with friends via Zoom.


For my high school senior, this has been rough. The last quarter of any high school career are filled with a multitude of celebrations and milestones: Prom, Senior Academic Awards, Senior Nights for bands, choirs, and athletics, Yearbook Distribution, and even Senior Ditch Day. All of these have been stripped away by a global pandemic that seemingly swept over our school year like a tsunami.

Senior NightWhile our seniors won’t get these back, they may have a chance for a graduation ceremony. Plenty of ifs precede this occurrence, and we may not know for weeks yet whether these can proceed as tentatively planned.


I am hopeful that schools and districts can remember and honor the purpose of graduation, however. Graduation is a giant achievement unlocked, a sign that these adults are ready to make their way into the world.


For my son, this step into the world takes him to ASU. My students have enlisted in the military, enrolled at community colleges and universities, embarked into careers, and selected the ideal trade schools. What they all take with them on this journey is the knowledge that even during a pandemic, their friends, family, and educators found ways to celebrate them. It may not be the big blowout bash that movies advertise, but the focus is in the right place.


Graduation isn’t about the pomp and circumstance, it’s about the graduates. I cringe when I see the words “drive-thru graduation” or “driveway graduation” as these have the potential to shift the focus onto the cars they drive or the houses they live in. Graduates aren’t responsible for their circumstances. Put the focus back on the graduates and what they’ve done, not what they have.


It seems weird to get to the end of the school year and just declare, “Congratulations! You’ve graduated!” We’re used to so much more than this. I’m missing the hugs, and the tears, of that last week with my seniors. I’m especially missing leaving heartfelt messages in yearbooks and getting to tell my students how very proud I am of them.


To the Class of 2020 I say, don’t let this subdued tone detract from your accomplishments. Remember the hard work you put in to get you to this point. You’ve earned the accolades even if they can’t be celebrated en masse right now. You’ve all earned this giant leap into adulthood, and we’re proud of you. Getting to see former students succeed is the extended graduation celebration educators look forward to. The pomp and circumstance is just the beginning.


As to my house? We’ll wait. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to get together with family before long and share a celebratory meal in honor of my son’s venture into the world post-high school. For him, like all my seniors, this step is only the beginning. I have faith that my son and my students will do great things in the world, and I plan to celebrate that for years to come.


How do you plan to celebrate?


Melissa Girmscheid

Melissa is a passionate advocate for physics education. She is currently in her twelfth year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and carries this passion to her secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. Melissa is a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2019 worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. Her goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to a high quality physics education. She continues to advocate for students as an Ambassador with the American Physical Society’s STEP UP program and a coach in the Arizona Educational Foundation’s teachSTEM program. Melissa achieved National Board certification is 2017 and now serves candidates as a Candidate Support Provider. She believes in the power of Modeling Instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

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