Hillsborough County cancels in-person graduations; ceremonies will be virtual

Hillsborough County Public Schools announced it will hold all high school graduation ceremonies online as the number of COVID-19 cases surges in the county.

District officials had been putting together a plan for in-person, socially distant graduation ceremonies, but when the state reopened and the virus' spread worsened, Superintendent Addison Davis and administrators decided any sort of gathering would be a bad idea.

"...with the current status of coronavirus cases in Hillsborough County, our district has made the decision that we believe is in the best interest of our graduates and their families," the district said in its announcement.

Each high school is planning a drive-thru diploma ceremony so seniors can make use of their caps and gowns and take a socially-distanced graduation photo with their principal.  

Hillsborough County Public School said it is still working out the details of the virtual graduation videos. Davis said they will include messages from school leaders along with the valedictorian and salutatorian. 

“My heart goes out to the Class of 2020. I recognize that each of our graduates worked tremendously hard during their Senior year and this is not the outcome we wanted for them," Davis said in a statement. "Although we have made this difficult decision to move the ceremonies online, nothing changes the fact that students will still have the opportunity to commemorate this occasion with their families."

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The news of the change brought a lot of disappointment for students and parents looking forward to their shining moment. "It makes me emotional right now because I wish I could walk through that stage and be able to experience that," said Armwood High School graduating senior Angelys Novoa.

She hoped to celebrate her special day before shipping out to the Army in August. While disappointed, she understands. "With everything going on it's hard for the district," she said. "It's a lot on their hands."

Other seniors who are not so understanding vented their frustrations under the announcement on the school district's Facebook page. One student posted, "13 years of straight A's, and this is the best Hillsborough County can do?"

Another wrote, "This infuriates me. You could've at least tried to plan for an outdoor graduation since every school has a football field."

Novoa's mother, Heidy said she's proud of her daughter and knows the future is bright, regardless of what form the graduation ceremony takes.

"Over everything, I always tell her, keep your head up, stay positive, better moments will come," Heidy Novoa said.