Nearly 9,000 Dallas ISD Seniors Will Graduate 'Virtually' This Month. Here Are 2. | KERA News

Nearly 9,000 Dallas ISD Seniors Will Graduate 'Virtually' This Month. Here Are 2.

May 12, 2020

Hardly any of the nearly 9,000 Dallas school district students graduating this month will celebrate as they expected. The planned pomp and circumstance has been sacrificed to COVID-19, which is forcing graduation to go online. 

Angelina Garcia and Zoie Powers, seniors at different Dallas ISD schools, say it hasn't quite sunk in that they'll miss the traditional graduation.

“Graduation, prom — like, end-of-year traditions are basically what was keeping me trying at school," says Zoie, who attends Woodrow Wilson. "Otherwise it was like, why am I even going? Why am I showing up?” 

“It's still hard to believe. I'm still trying to adjust to the thought of it,” says Angelina, who goes to Bryan Adams High School.    

Angelina is the concertmaster with the orchestra at Bryan Adams. While musicians always play for graduation, this was her year to get the diploma.

“Graduation — it's always meant a lot to me,” Angelina says. “My first time playing as concertmaster of our top orchestra was at graduation my freshman year. I was looking forward to playing all four years. It really had that much meaning to me. Knowing that I'll never get to play with my orchestra for the last time, and say bye to them, it's just sad.”

Zoie and her fellow seniors keep holding out hope for a rescheduled in-person graduation.  

“Everybody's really upset" about "them not even pushing it back a couple months or anything, just straight up saying it's going to be online," she said. "We're all super upset about it."

Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa figured as much when he announced last week that the district's graduation would be virtual. He called it the hardest decision he's had to make. He did consider pushing graduation back.

“If Plano has to try to have a delayed graduation — they [only] have three or four high schools they have to worry about. We have 37 high schools. We have almost 9,000 students," he said at a press briefing.

Hinojosa, in the state’s 2nd largest district, said that was too much.

So did Fort Worth ISD, initially, until the superintendent heard from students via Zoom. Now the Fort Worth  district will hold a virtual graduation June 20, followed by a voluntary in-person graduation later that month. Arlington ISD’s Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos met with some district seniors for their preference, keeping safety mind.

"The very last thing they wanted was a virtual graduation. They wanted an in person traditional, intimate - as best as possible - graduation. Even if it meant pushing the graduate dates to July. And that’s what we’ve planned.”

Cavazos acknowledges though -- those plans may change.

Some districts like Tyler and Argyle ISD aren't changing anything. They're holding in-person graduations- and they're doing on schedule-- in May.

Zoie’s Powers' mom, Kristen Derocha, is trying to look on the bright side. She’s familiar with frustrated seniors because she teaches high school.

“Children all across the world are going through this, so they have an almost shared experience. They’re almost going to be like war buddies."

Jean Culpepper, another Woodrow Wilson senior, wishes this class didn’t have to share that experience. She says the virtual ceremony takes something precious from these teens.

"I feel for them because a lot of them, kids from my class, they just took part in everything.  It’s a kind of a right of passage. I guess you could say."

Culpepper's turning 80 this September. She’s a Woodrow Wilson graduate too, class of 1959.

"Wildcats!"

Fellow Wildcat Zoe-- and Angelina, the Cougar are doing their best to embrace Culpepper’s pizazz, as they both prepare for their online graduation, then college this fall.

“The very last thing they wanted was a virtual graduation," Cavazos said. “They wanted an in-person traditional, intimate — as best as possible — graduation. Even if it meant pushing the graduate dates to July. And that's what we've planned.”

Cavazos acknowledges, though, those plans may change.

Other districts, however, like Tyler and Allen, will hold in-person graduations, on schedule. Still, they'll follow state safety and distance guidelines, and will severely limit the number of those who can watch.

Trying to look on the bright side in Dallas is Kristen Derocha, mom of Zoie Powers. She's familiar with frustrated seniors because she teaches high school in Dallas ISD.

“Children all across the world are going through this, so they have an almost shared experience," Derocha says. “They're almost going to be like war buddies.” 

Jean Culpepper, a Woodrow Wilson alumna, wishes this class didn't have to share that experience. She says the virtual ceremony takes something precious from these teens.

Jean Culpepper graduated from Woodrow Wilson in 1959. She's sorry this year's seniors won't experience their graduation rite of passage.
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

“I feel for them because a lot of them, kids from my class, they just took part in everything,” Culpepper says. “It's a kind of a rite of passage I guess you could say.”

Culpepper's turning 80 this September. She's a Woodrow Wilson graduate, class of '59.

“Wildcats!” she yells with pride.

Fellow Wildcat Zoie, and Angelina — the Bryan Adams Cougar — are doing their best to match Culpepper's pizzazz as they both prepare for their online graduation, then college this fall.

Got a tip? Email Reporter Bill Zeeble at bzeeble@kera.org . You can follow him on Twitter @bzeeble.

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