Olive’s Online Graduation

A quick catchup for any readers who might have missed it: instead of attending her senior year of high school, Olive, our 3rd oldest child, is currently working as an Au Pair in the south of France. She lives in a really beautiful university town called Montpelier.

You may remember our daughter Maude did something similar, and spent her senior year in Paris as an Au Pair. At the time, Maude had three classes to finish in order to graduate from high school, and she took those classes online while she lived in Paris. And then, at the end of May, she came home to “walk” with the rest of her graduating class, and was able to fully take part in the ceremony. She had arranged for this before she moved to Paris, so it wasn’t a surprise.

Olive planned to the same thing, but with one big change: she finished her remaining classes in the summer before she moved to Montpelier. She had learned from Maude that it was really challenging to adjust to a new job and life, while also completing any remaining high school classes via online school, so she finished up her high school coursework before she left. And she made an arrangement with her high school counselor that she could come back in May to graduate with her classmates.

But as you know, by the time May came around, borders had long been closed, and traveling back to Oakland for graduation wasn’t an option for Olive. And even if it had been an option, there was no graduation ceremony to attend anyway — quarantine means it was all online this year.

Because we knew Olive wasn’t traveling back to Oakland this month, and because her coursework finished up last August, I wasn’t really paying attention to graduation, and I’m not sure Olive was either. But her high school put together an exceptional online graduation ceremony (with tons of Oakland celebrities participating — more on that below), and Olive’s classmates made sure she had all the info, so of course, Olive opted in.

This past weekend, at 4:30 AM France time, Olive Jean Blair graduated from high school!

I know the concept of a public high school virtual graduation ceremony is a new thing this year, so I thought you might be interested in how it worked for Olive’s school.

-There were a couple of online practices on Zoom leading up to the ceremony. Olive didn’t get a chance to participate in those so I’m not sure what happened there.

-On the day of the ceremony, seniors had to join the Zoom call at 4:00 PM PST, an hour before the ceremony started at 5:00 PM PST. (If you’re curious, that means Olive joined the call at 1:00 AM France time.)

-Though there are about 400 kids in Olive’s graduating class, not everyone participated in the Zoom graduation ceremony, but Olive said there were about 150 people on the call.

-Only seniors had access to the Zoom call, and all the microphones were muted except for the Admin. So students would communicate with each other on the Zoom chat, or on separate Facetime chats or texts.

-Olive says most students on the Zoom call were in a cap and gown — like 98%. Olive did not have a cap and gown, and was participating from bed as it was the middle of the night for her. : )

-At 5:00 PM PST, a Youtube Live broadcast started. This broadcast was public and anyone could watch it — so this is how families and the community could take part. And the seniors were watching the Youtube Live broadcast because the Admin shared it on the Zoom screen (or some people had it open in another tab). The program on the Youtube Live broadcast went like this:

-First, speeches from the school administrators.

-Next speeches from student leaders (except one had mic issues and went later).

-After the student speeches, came tons of celebrities speeches — Tom Hanks, Zendaya, Angela Davis, Boots Riley, Steph Curry, Steve Kerr, Mayor Libby Schaff, and a whole bunch more. All the celebrities and dignitaries had deep Oakland roots.

-Though the rest of the program was done live, the celebrity talks were pre-recorded and edited into one continuous video. Olive suspects some might have been used in other Oakland high school graduations, but some of the speeches were very specific to Skyline High School — especially Tom Hanks who is a Skyline High graduate and referenced different places on campus during his talk, and made a point of giving the student leaders a shout out by name, which was very cool of him. The celebrity talks were each from 30 seconds to about two minutes.

The students seemed very aware that the reason they were getting attention from all these celebrities was because of the pandemic. If there’s such a thing as a pandemic perk, celebrity talks at public high school graduations might be it.

-After the celebrities, there was one more student speech. It was the valedictorian, Eleanor Wikstrom, who is one of Olive’s dearest friends — so it was a happy relief that Eleanor still got to speak even with the earlier microphone difficulties.

-After the speeches, they called each graduate by name. If you were on the Zoom call, the Youtube Live broadcast would show your live screen as they called your name, and sometimes you could see family members cheering with the graduate, which was very cute.

-If you weren’t on the Zoom call, it was supposed to show your senior portrait, but apparently that didn’t work — so it was a placeholder screen instead. But all names of graduates were called, whether they were on the Zoom call or not.

-Olive said that every time a name was called, the group chat on the Zoom call would go bananas, with all their friends cheering for them. I thought that was sweet.

-After all the names were read, the graduates were told to move their tassel to the other side of the cap. Then they all threw their hats in the air (Olive says she threw a handkerchief.)

-Lastly, the Principal gave some short closing remarks, and then there was a slideshow of pictures from senior year. The slide show ended with a drone shot of the school and a big Congratulations!

-Then it was over. It ended at 7:30 PM PST (which means the ceremony lasted 2.5 hours). For Olive it ended at 4:30 AM in France.

-The next morning, Olive shared a link to the Youtube Live broadcast with us so the whole family could watch.

Olive says if she had been in Oakland, she would have picked up a cap and gown to wear, but otherwise nothing would have been different than what she experienced in France. Isn’t that strange to think of?

Before Olive committed to being an Au Pair for this school year, Ben Blair and I sat her down and talked her through what it might feel like to miss out on all those senior-year activities. She assured us she didn’t mind and that she’d already participated fully in every high school experience that she wanted to have.

Of course, we had no idea that senior year activities this year would disappear over the last several months. I’m sure Olive is glad she didn’t second-guess her Au Pair plans!

We’re so dang proud of Olive — for graduating from high school, for completing her coursework ahead of schedule, and for making the most of her high school years. And we’re so glad she could participate in her high school graduation even though she’s an ocean way. What a strange year it is for seniors everywhere — I’m glad she’ll have this memory to share with her Class of 2020 peers.

Something else fun and Olive related: she’s coming to Argentan tomorrow! It feels like forever since we’ve seen her and we can’t wait to have her home.

Your turn: Do you know any graduating seniors this year? Did they have a virtual ceremony? Or some other socially-distanced celebration? What was it like?

P.S. — These are photos from Olive’s 2018 birthday, which was celebrated with a dressed up visit to SFMOMA with her friends.

23 thoughts on “Olive’s Online Graduation”

  1. My oldest graduated from Cal a few weeks ago. Some students put together a virtual graduation on MInecraft which I thought was super cute and original-“Blockley” with all kinds of landmarks from campus. We had a special dinner the night of graduation. I offered a “drive by” party with friends coming by to honk, or socially distance celebrate in the driveway. Our daughter said that she’s way more focused on the job market (or lack thereof) to feel like celebrating-plus it just seems so anti-climatic. It definitely was not the graduation (or senior year) that she or any of us was expecting.

  2. In my neighborhood in San Francisco, many homes are displaying professional-looking signs with the name of the school and (sometimes) the name of the graduating student in the school’s colores. One says: Congratulations! Quarantined Class of 2020. I had no idea we had so many high school age kids in our neighborhood until these signs were displayed.

  3. We have several graduates within our family and friends. It has been very interesting to see how each has been celebrated.
    In our smallish town the school gave each graduate a large congratulatory sign with their photo and name, similar to a political yard sign, for their yard, and also placed a very large banner at the corner of the school property listing all the names of the graduates.
    In our particular church, ward/congregation members met at the building then made a caravan of decorated vehicles and drove to each graduate’s home to honk, yell congratulations, toss cards, confetti, streamers, and or balloons out the windows – and generally make a “wahoo!” celebration as they slowly drove by at a safe distance. The Bishop came with a megaphone, stopped, and stood outside his door to announce their name as they walked down their driveway in cap and gown as the processional march played on a speaker. Each graduate’s family were there on the sides of the driveway to whoop and celebrate as the Bishop spoke on the achievements, and future plans of each graduate, along with personal thoughts he had for each individual – which was as adorable as it was thoughtfully personal. All in all it was extra cool, as in our school district, each graduate ‘normally’ only receives 5 tickets for the actual graduation held each year -so this year anyone who wanted to was welcome to join in the celebration!

    1. So cool Tom Hanks made a speech! I went to Skyline and I wrote to him and asked him to speak at my graduation (which would have been his 25th reunion) but I didn’t get a response. :( Glad he spoke for Olive’s graduation!

  4. Curious how long Olive will be staying on in her au pair position, and if it’s not long, WHAT’S NEXT for her? I’m sure she has big plans, whatever they are :)

  5. Thank you for sharing this, I found it very moving and uplifting. I am wearing my “Steve Kerr for president” tee shirt as I type this. I’m glad he was involved. Congratulations to Olive. She is a most impressive young woman!

  6. We have a Senior! He picks up his yearbook and cap & gown tues. He graduates on the 5th online. There will be a vehicle parade at school and he can have his picture professionally taken in front of where the graduation would be. There would have been so much stuff happening now like grandparents visiting, shopping & meals, and transportation to think about! A Backyard bbq!? That seems really hard to do right now thinking back to all the preparation. I feel extremely lazy at the moment!

    Congratulations to you all & Olive especially!

  7. Some parents put together a fun watch party for my daughter’s graduating class at a local drive in movie theater. They streamed the virtual ceremony on the screen, but when it started listing the names of the graduates, they turned off the virtual ceremony and read the names of the kids who were at the drive in instead. The kids were able to walk up to a stage in cap and gown and receive a “diploma” (a roll of toilet paper 😂) and have their picture up on the big screen. It was so great for my daughter to have this experience with her classmates! I think it provided the closure that a pre-recorded virtual ceremony wouldn’t have been able to give.

  8. Shauna Huffaker

    My daughter’s school has announced no plans for anything. So we have decided to dress her up and make a porch tour of the people who have meant the most to her growing up for a sense of completion and occasion. I suspect some of these dear friends will have prepared flowers or gifts for her. And I think that like any graduation it will go on too long and we’ll be more than ready to stop by the time it is over.

  9. Oh my gosh, the quarantine must have been so hard on Olive! I bet she’s thrilled to see you guys tomorrow, that will be a wonderful reunion…

  10. Lisa Wilcox Prudden

    My daughter graduated today with a “drive-thru” ceremony. It was great. Graduated exited the car and we took pictures from 20 feet away. She hopped back in and we were done!

  11. My daughter graduated from college earlier this month. The ceremony was virtual and my family gathered around the TV to watch. While not a replacement for an in person event we had a great time celebrating. The champagne was flowing which is not something you normally can do at a graduation event.
    Her university is planning an in person event in the future.

  12. Tip from Olive’s Aunt Rachel: There are free AIR-HORN APPS for your phone. Fun for us to use at a drive-thru graduate congratulations event.

  13. Cathilee Sharretts

    Congrats to OLIVE–WELL DONE!! Smart, a hard worker, self motivated, & a beauty–she has it all PLUS a FABULOUS dress to celebrate #18!

  14. My nephew graduated this year. Their school displayed poster of each graduate on the fences outside of the school, then had a parade and a small ceremony to get their diplomas (I believe some of the more strict social distancing orders had been lifted by then). Fun fact, two years ago his older siblings (triplets) didn’t participate in their graduation ceremony either. His brother was playing in the baseball state championship game which was scheduled at the same time as graduation, and of course his sisters cheered him on instead of walking. A day before the game, their teammates, and some siblings, got their diplomas as they crossed home plate during a small ceremony on the baseball field.

  15. Makayla Sampson

    My son graduated from Miami University in Oxford, OH this May. There was a virtual ceremony. My son was not interested so he didn’t watch. The university had very good speakers including our state’s Governor, who is an alum, and who also had 3 grandchildren graduating from there this year. However, the virtual graduation was very sad to me, and seemed impersonal. The most meaningful thing that we did was walk around campus to spots and buildings that meant a lot to my son, and took pictures of him wearing his cap and gown. We enjoyed talking with him about his time there over the four years.

  16. She is so smart. I feel like much of my high school experience was a ginormous waste of time including all those after-school activities and spending time with people you’re never going to want to see again. I wish I’d done this too! Congratulations to the whole family :)

  17. In the school district where I work and also in the school district where I live in the Salt Lake Valley, Utah, the kids drove to their high schools in decorated cars and dressed in their regalia. The graduate alone got out of the car and bumped elbows with the administrators and posed for the obligatory diploma pictures. There was so much joy and celebration. Those cars were crammed with his many people as They could possibly fit in, Which meant for a lot of empty cars in local parking lots. No one seem to mind. The sidewalks were lined with socially distanced families holding signs and balloons and cheering as the parade of cars went by to enter the local high school lot for the graduation drive-by ceremony. The schools here works so hard to make it memorable. Valedictorian speech is were posted on YouTube As well as the high schools social media channels for everyone to view.

  18. Tamila Leychkis

    Thank you for sharing. I have a senior too. I was dreaming of a large party, but COVID changed all the plans. Our school is doing drive through parade.
    What is Olive going to do in the fall? College or skip a year?

  19. Congratulations, beautiful Olive! How wonderful to see you all dressed up!
    Ralph came over today. We had a great visit. Proud of you all. Rachel Madsen graduated tonight in San Antonio. She was also the graduation speaker. Parents and teachers and graduates attended. Eager to get report.
    Have a wonderful June. Love, Grandma B

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