Graduation Ideas—Social Distancing Edition

Graduation Ideas—Social Distancing Edition

Updated 05/15/20

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Not all graduation and moving-up ceremonies have been canceled due to widespread coronavirus-related school closures. We’ve found some clever and heartfelt ways communities all over the country are planning to celebrate these milestone moments and make them special despite the circumstances.

by Terri Frank

Graduation Ideas—Social Distancing Edition


Editor’s note: Due to the wide variety of community responses to the coronavirus pandemic, please consult with state and local social distancing and quarantine guidelines before pursuing activities that may require students and families leave home.

For all graduates—from kindergarten up through high school—this year’s end-of-school celebrations area sure to be unusual due to school closures. Schools have canceled their traditional field days, class trips, clap-offs, dances, and awards ceremonies, and some have delayed or canceled celebrations altogether.

But there are plenty of parent groups, teachers, and school districts across the country that are determined to keep all the pomp and circumstance to make graduating students feel special. Here are some of our favorite plan B moving up and graduation ideas.

Delaying ceremonies until social distancing guidelines have been lifted is an idea that is gaining popularity among many schools that want to hold traditional events and invite families. The challenge they face is setting a date (or two) when there is still so much uncertainty. For younger grades, many districts and schools are planning to hold moving-up ceremonies the week before the new school year begins.

Some teachers and parent groups are creating Facebook slideshows and videos to give virtual shout-outs to students. Parents provide their child’s name, a recent photo, their favorite activities, their favorite subject in school, and fun facts about themselves. High school graduates also add activities, honors, and their future plans. The slideshow or video can be shared with families as a gift.

Year-end virtual Zoom or Google Classroom meetings or a livestream on YouTube are fun ways to celebrate students moving on to new schools. One 5th grade teacher is planning an end-of-year dance party as a goodbye for her class, while at another school, teachers plan to share messages of encouragement over a video of class activities and field trips during the year.

Build-your-own-mascot kits are popular gifts for students. Parent groups are shopping online suppliers and choosing the appropriate animal or bird option for their school. Each kit arrives with a mascot to stuff, the stuffing, a fabric heart, a T-shirt, and adoption certificate. Crafty parents are even personalizing T-shirts with school logos.

Yard signs that say “Congratulations, Graduate” and the school name are popping up in yards and front windows this spring.


Class T-shirts are a popular gift every year, but this year some schools are fully acknowledging the current situation. One school’s 6th grade moving-up T-shirt says “BE Graduates 2020 the One Where They Were Quarantined,” while other shirts say “Straight Outta Quarantine 2020.”


Lincoln (Alabama) High School seniors are appearing on banners hanging from light poles around town. What started as an idea by the elementary and middle school PTA president to honor student athletes has grown to include every senior in the class of 2020.

One elementary school is scheduling social distancing photo sessions for 5th graders. Volunteers will take photos of students wearing caps and gowns at prescheduled times, giving teachers time to sanitize between appointments. The photos will be added to a slideshow the school will share on its website and Facebook.

If you’re not comfortable doing that type of photo session in your community, try emailing a printable Class of 2020 sign to parents and ask them to take photos of their child posing with it. Then parents can send the photo to be included in a class slideshow.

Some school districts are using Twitter to honor graduating students, asking families to reply to their posts and share senior photos for the district’s followers to see and share in the celebration.


The Hanover (Penn.) Area School District rented a nearby drive-in movie theater to hold their high school graduation. From the comfort of their cars, families will watch a prerecorded ceremony with a slideshow of all the graduates. As a bonus, families are welcome to stay and enjoy a movie and inspirational messages from parents on the giant screen. The idea is spreading, and high schools in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Florida (to name a few) are also renting drive in theaters for graduations.

Several schools are planning drive-through moving-up gift distributions. One middle school will fill drawstring bags filled with coupons to local businesses and a congratulations letter from the principal to hand out to graduating 8th graders. While staying within social distancing guidelines, families will drive through the school’s parking lot at a designated time to pick up the gift and say goodbye to teachers.

Local TV networks and cable access channels are running shout-outs to graduating high school students as stories and to fulfill their public service responsibilities. Similar to what teachers are doing for slideshows, news outlets are asking for parents to supply photos, achievements, hobbies, and future plans.

One Tennessee high school parent created an Adopt a Senior 2020 page on Facebook where people in the community can choose a student to donate a graduation gift to. To see if your community is doing the same thing, search Facebook for “Adopt a Senior 2020” and your town or city name.

Congratulations signs on school grounds are good for nearly any budget and don’t have to be elaborate to get the message across. Check with local printers to see what deals they may offer or go online to order banners. If your school has a digital sign near the entrance, work with administration to post messages during the last few weeks of the original school schedule.

Originally posted 2020

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