CPS seniors 'frustrated' and 'hurt' by possible graduation plans

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COLUMBIA - Brayden Dodds thought she was going to graduate the evening of May 22, but the COVID-19 pandemic cut her senior year short and left graduation plans up in the air. 

"No one thought back in March when we left school that we would seriously never see each other again," she said.

As of Monday afternoon, Columbia Public Schools had not announced alternative plans for its graduation ceremonies. However, district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the district is considering several options. One of those options is a "hybrid experience," which would include a virtual ceremony with the possibility for graduates to get their diplomas at their high school. 

For Dodds, a Hickman High School senior, the idea of capping off 13 years of education with a virtual ceremony is disappointing. 

"Obviously we all understand that it's not going to be normal," she said. "Nothing's going to be normal, but we want it to be as close to normal as we can get." 

Dodds was part of a group of seniors who sent an email to district superintendent Peter Stiepleman on Sunday. The email was prompted by an article in the Columbia Missourian, which detailed the "hybrid" option. 

"We are tired of hearing information from news articles and adults that will not be impacted by the loss of our end of year celebrations this time next year," the seniors wrote. "We are tired of hearing that this is so sad and unfortunate, we know it is. We are completely aware of how upsetting this is, but what is more upsetting is that it doesn't even feel like anyone is trying to include our input or our opinions on the matter."

Dodds and other students had a meeting with Tony Gragnani, Hickman High School principal, on Monday afternoon. Dodds said it was an open forum where seniors were able to express their opinions. 

One option the seniors initially proposed was having an outdoor commencement at Faurot Field, where graduates would be able to sit at least 6 feet apart. However, Stiepleman told them he had checked with the University of Missouri, and Faurot Field would not be available. 

On Friday, Jefferson City Schools announced two make-up dates for an in-person ceremony during the summer. 

Stiepleman told KOMU 8 News in an email that the eventual format of any CPS graduation events will depend heavily on what regulations the health department establishes to limit the size of gatherings once the stay-at-home order ends May 4.

Dodds said she knows many events can't be made up, however, she said if the seniors can only have one event for the rest of the school year, they want it to be graduation.

"At the end of it, you go through all of high school to graduate," she said. "That's the end of it, so as long as we get that final end-of-the-year closure, I think it would mean a lot to everyone."