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Monroe Catholic High School offers graduating seniors a filmed social distance commencement

This year's graduating class is smaller than usual for Monroe Catholic High School, with 18 students. (Alex Bengel/KTVF)
This year's graduating class is smaller than usual for Monroe Catholic High School, with 18 students. (Alex Bengel/KTVF)(KTVF)
Published: May. 20, 2020 at 4:42 PM AKDT
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On May 20th, Monroe Catholic High School in Fairbanks offered its class of 2020 a social distance commencement ceremony in which they could be filmed receiving their diplomas in full academic regalia.

The 18 graduating seniors each reserved 15-minute slots to be filmed on the school’s stage.

Class of 2020 valedictorian Jenna Hernandez is happy for the opportunity. “I’m most excited to feel more like a graduate, like I’m actually getting my diploma, and I know my classmates are feeling the same way,” she said, adding, “It’s been a bummer having everything taken away at the last quarter we’ve all been looking forward to.”

Hernandez participates in a variety of school events, including yearbook, varsity volleyball, cheerleading, student ambassadors, and softball. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made softball impractical for the spring season, Hernandez say she feels blessed that in other ways Monroe has adjusted well to the changes wrought by the pandemic.

According to Hernandez, Monroe had an iPad program in the school already. That, combined with smaller class sizes, made transitioning into a remote learning model easier -- with students able to use electronics with which they were comfortable, and receive more personalized help when experiencing issues.

According to Monroe’s Principal Patrick Riggs, the school is planning a live, in-person, limited graduation ceremony on June 19th, pending state mandates. Monroe graduates traditionally participate in a retreat at the end of the year, which Riggs also hopes will be an option over the summer.

According to Riggs, this year’s graduating class is small, even for Monroe. “That’s one of the things that gives us the hope that we can have that live graduation. If it were one of our bigger classes, then maybe it wouldn’t be possible. But with 18 students, we think that we can manage the social distancing,” he said.

Another benefit of having smaller classes than other schools is the opportunity to individualize each student’s graduation experience, with teachers working together to create biographies of every student that are read out to friends and family at the ceremony.

Riggs said Monroe tries to instill resilience in its students, and that has helped them cope with the current pandemic. “Resilience is one of the most important things that any student or any adult can learn, and it’s one of the most important things carrying you forward through life. Life will always throw at you pieces that you don’t think that you can handle -- pieces that are new [or] unheard of -- and learning that skill of resilience very early on is very important.”

Hernandez plans to study Civil Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks next fall.

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