Cap. Gown. Face Mask? In-Person Graduation During COVID-19

  • High School
Cap. Gown. Face Mask? In-Person Graduation During COVID-19

Dressed in their most elegant clothes, SSIS seniors zipped up their graduation robes and donned their caps on Saturday, May 30th, carefully placing their tassels on the right. But before commencing their procession, they added one final piece to their graduation attire - a blue two-toned face mask. 

Until a little over a month ago, no one dared believe that a physical graduation ceremony would ever be possible. Plans began to create an inspiring and festive virtual graduation ceremony to mark this incredible milestone in the Class of 2020's lives.

However, when the Vietnamese government began to ease social-distancing restrictions, and schoolchildren around the country returned to their classrooms, a ray of hope emerged. Could it be possible that we could hold physical graduation while meeting the stringent health and safety requirements that have kept this nation among the least affected by COVID-19? Our graduation committee set out to make that possible.

"For years, our students have counted down to this occasion, working tirelessly to reach their goals," says Head of School, Dr. Catriona Moran, "throughout this year, and the challenges of the past months, the Class of 2020 has persevered. We wanted to do everything possible to make this day happen for them."

So how did the graduation committee pull this off? With a lot of careful planning.

First, the committee determined that the graduation would have to be held outdoors, which meant holding it early in the morning due to temperamental afternoon monsoon rains and midday humidity. And as this is still the hottest period of the year, shading would be necessary. And finally, due to social-distancing requirements, the number of guests would need to be limited. 

In tents that would easily seat three times as many people, seating was sparse and chairs were set 1.5 meters apart.

The decision to hold the event on our very own field proved to be the best solution. It would allow the graduation committee to control all of the moving parts. Holding the graduation ceremony on the very grounds where our founding fathers, Lawrence S. Ting and Ferdninad P. Tsien, envisioned a school that would prepare students for purposeful lives as global citizens, made it even more meaningful. 


The high school administration communicated the expectations early on with the graduates and their families, explaining that to be able to hold an on-site ceremony, would mean that everyone would have to follow the rules. The community was very understanding and took the guidelines to heart. 

Family members were verified against the list of ticket-holders. Here a family checks in, as another family waits on the cross-walk behind them.

On the day of graduation, before the ceremony began, a welcome message broadcast in three languages reminded attendees of the graduation guidelines, which included remaining seated throughout the ceremony and mandatory mask usage.  

Arrival & Check-In 

The Seniors and their families first arrived in the morning at a pre-assigned check-in time between 7:10 am, and 7:40 am outside of the school turnstiles. Groups of families were admitted in staggered ten-minute intervals to eliminate gatherings. The staggered entry times allowed for a smooth transition and even flow of guests entering the campus. 

Each graduate was granted two tickets for immediate family members, i.e., parents and siblings, in advance. However, families could apply for additional tickets if their households were larger. 

Family members were allowed to remove their masks briefly for a family photo.

At check-in, the ticket-holding family members were issued seating in a specified tent, where, as they had been previously informed, they would not be allowed to stand up to take photos. Instead, five photographers would document the event from start to finish, ensuring that the families were provided with photos from the entire day. And before being seated, families were invited to have their pictures taken by professional photographers against one of four photo backdrops.

Seats were spread out at a 1.5-meter distance from each other. Bottled water at each seat kept guests hydrated. 

While the Seniors' family members settled into their assigned seating, the Seniors gathered, socially-distanced, in the High School gym to await the procession - and to receive the final piece of their graduation ensemble, identical SSIS face masks. 


To serve the friends and family members who were not able to attend, the entire graduation ceremony was live-streamed to the school's Facebook page and YouTube channel. A constant stream of congratulatory messages filled the feed, as people from near and far attended the ceremony virtually.

Socially-distanced, Seniors gathered in the High School gym leading up to the procession.

Valedictorian, Kamille, headed to Barnard in the Fall, urged her classmates to "...remember that achieving greatness is not measured by money or recognition; it's measured by those who you have positively impacted in your life. The people who were left with a little more happiness and hope after meeting you.."

As students removed their masks for a brief moment, one by one, to ascend the stage and have their pictures taken with Head of School, Dr. Catriona Moran, and the High School Principal, Mr. Jacob Hendrickson, the elated joy of the moment could be seen on their faces.

Head of School, Dr. Catriona Moran and High School Principal, Jacob Hendrickson posing with graduate.

For a large number of our families, this ceremony brought closure to 15 years at the school, as they’ve watched their children grow in our community. For all involved, these words from the parents of a graduate and longtime SSIS community members made every effort worth it.

“...I'm grateful that this year - in spite of COVID-19, in spite of the ongoing struggles of humanity here and around the world - we have been blessed with a leadership team at SSIS that has done everything in its power to bring love and joy to its community.”

An SSIS graduate. Ready to head out into the world.

During what has been a period of uncertainty in our community, and across the world, we are so proud to have been able to give our students the memory of their High School graduation and wish the Class of 2020 the very best as they leave SSIS, well-prepared and ready to live purposeful lives as global citizens.

Author: Tanya Olander
Communications Officer


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