Voices from the #PrincipalProject Community

#ClosedNotClosed: Principal Kristen Kuhlmann Creates a Socially Distant Graduation Ceremony


Kristen Kuhlmann is a high school principal in Andover, Kansas. You can follow her on Twitter at @AHSPrincipal385.

As the end of this complicated year approaches, I know how much our school community would love to hold a traditional commencement ceremony for our seniors. This is a tough call for every principal, and I considered waiting until we can gather in person. But I hated to tell our kids that we’re postponing graduation indefinitely – I want to send them out into the world with pride and celebration, not on a note of disappointment and doubt. Soon they’ll begin new careers, enter the military and move away for college. But right now, they’re our amazing senior class. It’s important to them to celebrate the memories and milestones they’ve shared, while they’re still together – and it’s important to us, too! So we decided to create a hybrid graduation ceremony: safe, socially distant and truly special.

Our ceremony will begin with a video presentation of speeches and performances; then seniors and their families will caravan to school for a carefully spaced-out procession across an outdoor stage. Here’s how we’re making it happen, step by step:


Start with student voice. I shared the idea first with our valedictorians, then with our student groups and senior families, and then I reached out to all our seniors. Since this celebration really is about them, I wanted to make sure they felt involved with making the day special. They decided to paint the sidewalks that lead to and from our stage: one with our school mascot and colors, the other with the logos that represent their futures – college, military and career. They’re planning to decorate their caps, and even their cars, and I can’t wait to see the results.


Uphold treasured traditions. Commencement is a time to reconnect with our school culture and renew our traditions. Our graduations always include special speeches and performances, so we’re going to record those ahead of time and watch the recording in our homes – apart, but still together.


Create the memories that matter. We all know how much it means for families to see their seniors walk across the stage on graduation day. Our families will drive their kids to school in waves to watch them receive their diplomas. We’ll livestream the procession, so all the students can watch from home or from their cars.


Facilitate community collaborations. We reached out to our district, and they agreed to provide formal photo portraits for each graduate. A local construction company will record drone footage of the ceremony, so our seniors will have a unique record of the day.


Spell everything out. This will be a new experience for everyone, so I’ve provided this outline of events to our students, families and teachers. When our seniors pick up their graduation packets, we’ll hold a walk-through. I’ll record it and send out the video so we’ll all be ready for the big day!


We’ve never faced a time like this before. But in all times of challenge, we can find our way forward by reconnecting with our most deeply held value: inspiring and empowering our kids to succeed. In celebrating our graduating seniors, we’re celebrating our commitment to every student – and to the future of our school community.

About the Author

Kristen Kuhlmann
Kristen Kuhlmann