The month of May is normally a time of celebrations, devotions to Mary, class trips, retreats, grand farewells, Baccalaureate masses, and graduation ceremonies.  May of 2020, however, will live in our memories as that one time we did things differently.

Schools have become creative this spring in their approaches to serving families and students.  To help 2020 graduates feel special despite the loss of their spring activities, each school has responded in its own unique fashion.

Yavapai and Coconino Counties have three of Diocese of Phoenix’s Catholic schools. Sacred Heart Catholic School in Prescott, Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Cottonwood, and San Francisco de Asis in Flagstaff all feed their local public high schools.  With no Catholic high school options in northern Arizona, these schools are working hard to provide their 8th graders with special memories. Bill Carroll, principal of San Francisco de Asis, stated, “It is especially difficult for us three schools because this is the last form of Catholic education our students may receive, unless they go to a Catholic university.”

Mr. Carroll will especially miss the field trip with his 8th graders to the local cemetery to practice a spiritual work of mercy, praying for the dead.  “After May Crowning, when students bring flowers for Mary, we take the flowers to a local cemetery,” reported Carroll. “Students place flowers on graves and pray for the deceased.”

Knowing the class will miss this field trip, their Catalina trip, and other special moments, Carroll talked with the 8th graders to try to make a plan.  “They definitely want an in-person celebration—not an online venue,” he said.  So, graduation will be a little later, but it will be worth the wait.

“Parents have been extremely supportive,” shared Tony Hernandez, principal of Immaculate Conception Catholic School.  “I do daily video updates, prayer, and stories to try to stay connected.”  Missing out on their Knott’s Berry Farm trip after graduation and being unable to attend Leadership Day in Flagstaff both posed disappointments for the 8th graders, but a ceremony is in the cards.  With such a large church and a small class, even a socially-distanced celebration is possible.

With a graduating class of 12 students, Sacred Heart Catholic School principal Shelly Cooper says there WILL be a ceremony for the students and their parents, at the very least.  “We are also creating yard signs for each graduate and will take a picture of them posing with it, as ‘Panther’ face masks for the ceremonial graduation photo.”  Without the tradition of the Final Walk through the gym doors and down the school hallway, a final bonding activity with kindergarten buddies, and award ceremony out on the town, different and unique memories will be created for the Sacred Herat class of 2020. “Parents have been helping to be creative in plans for the 8th graders,” said Cooper. “We all just want to ensure they have a memorable experience together.”

But what about high school seniors?  No senior ditch day, no senior prom, no class retreat…  At one valley Catholic high school, some traditions will take a different form this year in response to special circumstances but still look similar. “The celebration of the liturgy is the source and summit of Christian life,” said Victor Serna, principal of Seton Catholic Prep. “For this reason, it was important for us to not just host a graduation ceremony but celebrate our Baccalaureate mass together as a Catholic community. We plan on celebrating a little differently with our mass and graduation ceremony on the same night, Tuesday, June 30, 2020.” In addition to this celebration, Serna said the school will also make it possible for seniors to enjoy a few other traditions, including Senior Picnic, Senior Brunch, and Prom.

One thing all four of these principals agreed upon was that they had to work even more closely with families than usual to make the students feel special and create memories.  Their appreciation and love for their respective students and communities has shown through in creative measures, flexibility, and the magic of communication and cooperation!

To all the students in the Class of 2020, on behalf of Catholic Education Arizona, may God bless you on your journey!  Congratulations on your graduation!

Pictured: Seton Catholic seniors pick up caps and gowns in drive-thru