Graduations today can be as special as past ceremonies with a bit of ingenuity. (Courtesy photo)
Graduations today can be as special as past ceremonies with a bit of ingenuity. (Courtesy photo)

As the reality of perpetually postponed proms, graduation ceremonies and cookouts continues to set in for high school graduates across the D.C. metropolitan area, some Ward 8 community members have embarked on a mission to host commemorative events for high school seniors that fall within the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

At a date to be determined later this month, hundreds of D.C public and public charter high school graduates who call Ward 8 home will participate in a daylong ceremony that follows the social distancing guidelines outlined by the Bowser administration.

In addition to this special graduation, the outdoor field at Stanton Elementary School on Naylor Road in Southeast will house a display of life-sized high school graduation photos of each celebrant.

Such a combination, Ward 8 community leader and parent India Blocker-Ford said, aims to lay to rest any anxiety young people may have about not being recognized for their hard work.

“We couldn’t allow the kids to not have a graduation,” Blocker-Ford said.

Blocker-Ford said she, Jimmie Jenkins of Manpower DC, and Ward 8 Council member Trayon White brainstormed this idea in late March, a couple weeks into the District’s public health emergency.

By that time, they along with several other community members had doled out untold amounts of food, toiletries, and other items to Ward 8 residents under the volunteer services network known as Mutual Aid.

“We’ll do a graduation with 10 students every hour and a half on a football field. We’ve gotten that far, but that’s where we are,” Blocker-Ford said. “My daughter is a senior, and this is something we’ve been waiting for her entire life.”

Last month, to the chagrin of some graduating seniors, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced that D.C. Public Schools’ (DCPS) distance-learning program would continue through the end of the school year on May 29.

On Friday, the DCPS central office recognized college-bound seniors during virtual College Signing Day festivities that took place on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. While officials have yet to finalize senior graduation plans, the school system’s 100-hour community service requirements have been waived and seniors’ grades have been closely monitored in development of summer credit recovery plans for those who’ve fallen short.

In spite of the circumstances, seniors still need to complete 24 credit hours to successfully attain their high school diploma.

Some young people such as Ar’Dinay Blocker said they went to great lengths to reach their goal of a high school graduation.

For Ar’Dinay, getting a high school diploma will be a milestone of great significance, especially since she’s the oldest of her siblings and the first person in three generations of her mother’s family to complete high school.

“We put in 12 years of our life for school, and don’t get a chance for the senior experience, as far as graduation, prom, cookouts and all that,” said Ar’Dinay, an 18-year-old Southeast resident and Blocker-Ford’s daughter.

After leaving Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School at the end of her freshman year, Ar’Dinay pursued her passion for basketball, public speaking and teen advocacy at Kingsman Academy Public Charter School in Northeast.

“We know we [would have] graduated, but we don’t feel like we’re celebrated,” said Ar’Dinay, an aspiring attorney and fashion designer. “I knew things wouldn’t be the same once my dean started going around the school building asking for our addresses to send laptops. We did all this work, and can’t do anything about it. As a reward to us, our first year of college should be free.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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