When Jonas Hoch walked across the platform in Oley Valley High School’s gymnasium May 27, there were no whoops and cheers from a crowd of friends and classmates.
But as he accepted his diploma from the school district, there were claps and congratulations nonetheless. They came from his parents, Daryl and Karen Hoch; grandparents Mark and Bernice Hoch; brother, Evan; and other family members, who watched proudly from a small groups of chairs spaced in the middle of the gym.
“It was very important having family there,” Jonas said. “I would have liked a ceremony with all my friends, but it wasn’t in the cards.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school district canceled its 2020 commencement exercises, planned for next month. Instead, Oley’s 136 graduates donned caps and gowns and received their diplomas during appointments staggered throughout the day May 27 and 28.
To help compensate for the canceled ceremony, Dr. Tracy S. Shank, district superintendent, and Gina Finnerty, high school principal, came up with the idea of virtual graduation. The school board supported the idea and hired Perlow Productions of Marlton, N.J., to produce a video.
“All the pieces that make Oley’s graduation so special will be there, plus some extras,” Shank said. “The goal is to give the Class of 2020 the experience of our traditional commencement ceremony.”
Each student was able to invite up to nine guests, in accordance with recommendations for gathering in groups no larger than 10, she said.
The video will begin with the seven bells, a naval tradition, that start the school day at 7:30 each morning and will include footage of each graduate, music, a slide show highlighting the school year and other features, including speeches by valedictorian Casey T. Lang, salutatorian Julia K. Ulsh and honor student Alyssa Matteoli.
The completed video will debut on the district’s YouTube channel with a virtual watch-party event sometime next month, Shank said.
“Nothing will replace a live ceremony,” Finnerty said, “but this can be a satisfying experience, viewed communally at a specified time and saved.”
Instead of heading off to a party or out to a restaurant with family and friends as he might otherwise have done after receiving a diploma, Jonas bid his family goodbye and headed off to his job at Golden Oaks Country Club, Ruscombmanor Township.
He hopes to celebrate his accomplishment later when the danger of COVID-19 infection has passed.
“It stinks not being able to graduate with all my friends,” he said. “That is a big part of tradition. But I am glad they (the school district) at least tried to make up for it. It shows they care.”