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.