PERSPECTIVE: Dear Gibraltar, A Ceremony Isn’t Worth It

“How do they account for people who have to go to the restroom, though, Mike?”

That’s what Gibraltar School Board member Angela Sherman said in response to board Vice President Mike Peot’s proposal during the Apr. 27 virtual school board meeting for Gibraltar to hold a graduation ceremony at the Skyway Drive-In in Fish Creek. 

“I don’t know about that,” Peot said.

The prospect of having a graduation ceremony at the drive-in theater, where students and their families would watch from their cars, was adopted by parents and has moved into the development and discussion stages within the Gibraltar administration and school board. These recent discussions come after Sturgeon Bay High School announced its plans to carry out its graduation ceremony as a boat parade

As a high school senior, I acknowledge that these are fun, innovative ideas that I would love to participate in. However, even as foolproof as a plan can be, any plan that encourages and involves public interaction is still a clear risk to public safety. And considering the impetus of a graduation ceremony, it’s not worth it.

Sherman’s question during the board meeting was representative of the many aspects of planning that organizers of a physical graduation ceremony would have to consider. How will diplomas be distributed? What if people are interacting through open car windows? What if people get out of their car? Who will enforce social distancing and ensure safety?

According to Sturgeon Bay Principal Robert Nickel, his school’s ceremony will consist of physically turning tassels, physically distributing diplomas, and two to three people in a boat during the rides. Is this a defiance of social distancing?

The word “essential” is one we’ve heard a lot lately. Whether it’s in regard to essential workers or essential trips, many of us seem unaware of what “essential” means and what qualifies as “essential.” 

The state has outlined the reasons why individuals may leave their home: to engage in activities or perform tasks essential to health and safety; to obtain necessary services or supplies for themselves and their family or household members; to engage in outdoor activity, including visiting public and state parks, provided that they comply with social-distancing requirements; to perform work at essential businesses or operations; and to take care of family members or friends in need.

These essential activities do not include birthday parties, weddings, bingo nights or graduation ceremonies. That’s because leaving your home at all – regardless of whether it’s for an essential purpose, and regardless of whether the state is actively under a Safer at Home order – patently and provenly increases the likelihood that an individual will contract COVID-19

Although the reasons why people may leave their home are part of the Safer at Home order and a graduation ceremony will not ensue under such an order, the recommendations should be considered the safest option. Research has proven that this virus isn’t going away soon and that social distancing is currently our only defense mechanism against it.

Despite whether Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order is still in effect in late May and early June, the virus will still be spreading rampantly, and social distancing will be the best defense against it. Having a gathering of 500 to 600 people within a week of the order being lifted is clearly not a nominal risk, especially if it’s put on by a public institution. 

Given how contagious and deadly COVID-19 has proven to be, plans for a ceremony at the drive-in would have to be infallible. Everything would have to go perfectly to prevent the spread of germs and perhaps the virus. As Sherman alluded to, a simple trip to the restroom could put someone at risk. 

So is it worth it? Does Gibraltar need a physical ceremony to understand that parents, teachers, administrators and community members acknowledge and honor the accomplishments of seniors? I’ll be the first to vote no.

Throughout these trying times, members of our Gibraltar family have shown the utmost recognition, support and empathy for seniors and the situation we have been forced to go through. In light of this, the perceived necessity for an alternative to a traditional ceremony has truly astounded me.

As unfortunate as it manifestly is, this is a time in all of our lives when we need to pause and look toward the future, not the past. 

We’ve been robbed of the experiences that every high school senior should have. It’s not fun. However, today we are all lucky enough to have technology that allows us to meet virtually and communicate effectively. Even if using technology pales in comparison to person-to-person interaction, it’s the safest option. Besides, there is such considerable potential for a virtual graduation ceremony or video to be something exceptional and extremely memorable.

A virtual ceremony is immeasurably the safer option for Gibraltar. If this is not what is chosen, the safety of attendees will be compromised in the name of sentiment. This health crisis isn’t about “creating memories” by stepping around government safety recommendations; it’s about doing everything we can to keep the public safe. I commend Gibraltar for making decisions that align with public safety so far, and I urge administrators to continue to do so.