The city of Dunwoody may organize a graduation ceremony and other celebratory events for high-school seniors whose year is ending remotely in pandemic school closures. But health concerns and the DeKalb County School District’s own plans mean that nothing has been decided yet and public suggestions are welcome.
City Councilmember Tom Lambert, who is spearheading the effort to honor the class of 2020, says his early ideas include a graduation ceremony, final concerts for band and orchestra students, and exhibition sporting events to mimic senior nights. Brook Run Park could be a venue, and the events could honor students from Dunwoody and Chamblee high schools as well such private institutions as the Marist School in Brookhaven.
“We’re not married to any idea at this point,” said Lambert in a phone interview. “We want the community to know, and especially the seniors to know, that we’re thinking about them and we’re going to find a way to do something for them.”
Lisa Beiger, co-president of the Dunwoody High School Parent-Teacher-Student Organization, said the school is working on innovative celebration ideas, too.
“We truly appreciate the city of Dunwoody reaching out to us and offering city resources/facilities to help support our plans,” Beiger said. “We are taking this into consideration as we collaborate with our school’s administration. At this time, it is premature to speculate on what we can safely sponsor.”
DeKalb’s public schools have been closed since March 16, working by remote learning. On April 14, DeKalb County Schools announced an early end to the school year and a postponement of graduation ceremony dates.
For seniors, the school year will end May 8. Graduation ceremonies were pushed back from the week of May 18 to the week of June 22. Still to be determined is what those ceremonies will be. DeKalb County Schools said the options include an entire virtual event or a hybrid with only seniors and staff members meeting in person with families and others watching online. A decision is expected by early May.
The city is looking to cooperate, not compete, with DeKalb County Schools, Lambert said.
“We’re still kind of in a little bit of a holding pattern, trying to wait and see exactly what the school system is going to do,” Lambert said. “But we’re going to start to work on some things with the parents and see what we can come up with.”
Lambert said he was thinking of the graduation ceremony issue at the time of a March 18 meeting where the City Council declared a pandemic emergency. That night, he said, he pitched his idea to other councilmembers via email. Every councilmember supported the idea, Lambert said.
Events could be held at such city facilities as Brook Run Park, Lambert said. The park’s ongoing $7.8 million renovation project will add two new multi-purpose athletic fields, a great lawn and a 500-seat amphitheater.
Brent Walker, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the pandemic has had little impact on the renovations, which remain on track for completion by May 1.
“With construction being an essential business, we’ve been able to stay on track,” Walker said. “The rain through the winter was a bigger issue as far as construction time than COVID-19 has been. Fortunately, we are in the final stages of the project anyway, so it hasn’t really had any impact on us so far.”
Lambert said he was drawn to the cause because his son graduated in 2019.
“I’m less than a year removed from going through all these events with my own son and experiencing them,” Lambert said. “Let’s be honest, they’re great events for the students, but they’re also great events for their parents as well, for their families and friends.”
Lambert said he welcomes idea from the public about how to celebrate the graduation seniors. He can be contacted at email@example.com.