Commencement ceremonies in limbo

PB County cancels ceremonies at fairgrounds, causing confusion

PALM BEACH COUNTY — Dr. Donald Fennoy, superintendent of the Palm Beach County School District, wrote a letter April 7 to the “Distinguished Class of 2020,” informing thousands of seniors, sadly, that he had to cancel their traditional commencement ceremonies at the South Florida Fairgrounds.

He said his hand was forced by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home order issued as the number of coronavirus cases in Florida and the United States multiplied over the past weeks. With “a heavy heart,” Dr. Fennoy wrote, “I have made the very difficult decision to cancel this year’s graduation ceremonies at the South Florida Fairgrounds.” However, he added, “I have not discounted exploring other options as we monitor the pandemic and its impact on Florida.” Dr. Fennoy told seniors that their principals and student government representatives would seek “other viable opportunities to mark this great milestone in your life.”

Most people took that to mean that the event of graduation was flat-out canceled, and many questions were raised by the public. The confusion led to a clarification issued by the district the next day.

“Yesterday’s announcement regarding graduations was not that they are canceled outright, it was to inform parents and seniors that ceremonies will not be taking place at the South Florida Fairgrounds,” read the statement from the district’s public information office, issued Wednesday, April 8.

“More information is forthcoming as district staff works closely with school principals and student government representatives regarding the potential for other commencement opportunities. Thank you for your patience as the district determines how best to safely recognize the Class of 2020 for reaching this milestone in their academic career,” it went on.

The Lake Okeechobee News sought comments from readers on the “Belle Glade Sun” Facebook page, and a few folks responded:
• “This is so sad. I remember when I graduated the satisfaction I felt walking across that stage. I also remember the way I felt a few years ago when I saw my two daughters walk across that stage and now I can’t even see my third daughter do it. This really hurts because she had a baby her junior year and she still got to finish with her class. I am very proud of her, and I wish the district would at least reconsider to schedule on a different date when this is over.” — Monica Lopez

• “To ME, they should say the graduation is POSTPONED until a date they can later communicate. Telling me that you have some ideas of what you can do between the principal and governing bodies doesn’t help. The whole point of the ceremony is getting the diploma handed to you on stage. Not in the mail. They should’ve held off on handing it in the mail. I’m very disappointed in the way the message was conveyed.” — Candice Burk

• “I’m not a high school graduate. I attended West Tech and I was supposed to graduate April 17. That is not going to happen because of the virus. My family and I will have a small gathering — just us. I’m sad about the seniors in high school that can’t walk across the stage to get their diploma.” — Rosa Mendoza

• “They should consider doing a graduation in August or December. If not, do virtual graduation, in May.” — Shay De La Renta

At this point, there’s nothing more to say except that those concerned should stay tuned for further developments.

Lake Okeechobee News Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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