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The Class of 2020 will celebrate their final year of school in a very different way.

One of the most important rites of passage in our lives is the moment when we leave high school. The completion of 13 years of education marks a transition into adulthood and independence. But what happens when things don’t go according to plan?

For Year 12 students in Victoria, COVID-19 has brought a very challenging set of circumstances. Since the middle of March 2020, Victorian VCE students have endured on again/off again remote learning, upended study plans and a redrawn timetable for VCE assessments and exams.

But it’s one thing to have your exams rescheduled. It’s quite another to have to forego the beloved traditions and ceremonies that mark the end of your schooling. 

Alternative Ways to Celebrate

While performing arts productions and sporting competitions have been cancelled for many school students this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for Year 12 students there is a particular sense of loss. Important rites of passage such as the Year 12 Formal, graduation dinners and valedictory services are at the mercy of government restrictions, and even Schoolies Week may be off the cards. 

After such a disruptive year, it’s important for schools to consider alternate ways to celebrate the essential rites of passage for the Class of 2020. For Samantha Jempson, Year 12 Coordinator at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School in Melbourne, it's important to acknowledge that these traditions “have become more precious and important, especially in light of the losses they have experienced so far.”

“We have to focus on providing the Class of 2020 with memories that are special and unique to them whilst still ensuring they experience some of the important traditions that are part of their final year of school,” she suggests.     

So what can a school do to ensure its Year 12 students can properly mark the occasion?  For many people whose lives have been upended by the pandemic, this year has required a lot of planning and re-planning. Celebrations for the Class of 2020 are no exception. Flexibility is key, suggests Sam. “Keep an open mind and try to find solutions within the relevant COVID-19 restrictions.” 

“Accept that some events will need to be smaller, in a different location or at a different time,” she says. 

Celebrating Online

Thanks to digital technology, there are a lot of options for end-of-year formalities, depending on the restrictions in place, and the amount of people permitted in a particular venue. It's important to plan an event that can be responsive to changing guidelines. A livestream of a graduation ceremony will enable parents to be a part of an event if they can’t be there in person, while a video conference can be a way for musical performances, speeches and awards to be viewed from home if stay-at-home restrictions are still in force. 

A Very Different Year

Apart from finding unique and memorable ways to mark the occasion, it’s also important for schools to help their Year 12 students navigate the stresses of this challenging year. First and foremost, according to Sam Jempson, is to be open and honest with them. “Acknowledge that this year looks different,” she says, “keep students informed and reassure them by explaining what is going on.”

Despite the many disappointments this year has brought for the Class of 2020, Sam suggests that it’s important to commemorate it, and recognise it as an important moment in history. Encouraging students to write a gratitude journal is one way to work through anxieties and build resilience, while creative team projects like a time capsule can be a meaningful way to observe the profound challenges the students have faced together. After all, 2020 is a year none of us will ever forget.