No senior prom. No walk across the stage to accept that first college diploma.

These are the realities for many graduating students across Arizona under the pandemic stay-at-home order.

That’s why education advocates are encouraging everyone who knows a high school or college graduate to join in to celebrate and honor students and teachers in other ways this month on May 5 and May 20.

“Teachers are missing their students and graduates are missing their friends, but they should not have to miss out on being honored,” said Christine Thompson, CEO and president of the nonprofit Expect More Arizona that is promoting the events. “This year, it’s especially important that teachers and graduates feel seen and celebrated.”

Any kind of celebration will do

Because many students and teachers are unable to celebrate in traditional ways, Expect More Arizona is encouraging the state to join together for two special days:

• Tuesday, May 5 – Arizona Teacher Appreciation Day

• Wednesday, May 20 – Arizona Graduate Recognition Day

Any kind of celebration will do. Suggestions from Expect More Arizona include decorating front doors and yards with school colors, adding pictures to digital yearbooks, and virtual parties. The organization is posting ideas, posters, social media images, and other tools to aid the celebration.

Businesses also encouraged to honor educators, students

Expect More Arizona is also calling on companies and organizations to celebrate educators and students on May 5 and May 20 as well.

They are recommending businesses do things such as take out ads in local papers to recognize teachers and students, post celebratory messages on their home pages or hang banners near neighborhood schools.

Creative activities and virtual ceremonies statewide  

Many high schools have already planned virtual graduation ceremonies and other activities to make their students and teachers feel special.

Other schools are still undecided or have opted to have public ceremonies even if it means delaying them until it’s safe.

All but one of the 11 Basis Charter schools in the state are delaying their ceremonies until it’s deemed safe to hold public events. Basis Chandler and Flagstaff are hosting online events as well.

Schools are finding new and creative ways to make memories for those missing out on the  traditional pomp and circumstance.

Chandler High and Dobson High in Mesa, as well as other high schools across the Valley, have been turning on their stadium lights at night to honor the class of 2020.

At Madison Highland Prep high school in Phoenix, seniors and their parents picked up personalized yard signs from their school to celebrate their upcoming virtual graduation.

A teacher at Arcadia High School in Scottsdale went online to tell her students how much she appreciated them and brought along famous alum Alice Cooper. It was aired on ABC channel 15. Cooper’s virtual message? “School’s out for summer — maybe a little early.”

Many colleges to host virtual ceremonies 

A large number of colleges and universities are moving ahead with virtual commencements.

Grand Canyon University in Phoenix has been celebrating since virtually last week. Social media has been filling up with photos of students in their caps and gowns. Tim Griffin, pastor and dean of students, reminisced right along with them in a video address to graduates.

Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, Yavapai College in Prescott and Arizona Western College in Yuma are among a long list of colleges planning virtual graduation ceremonies this month.

Others, like Arizona Christian University in Glendale and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott will have commencement and homecoming celebrations in the fall or later.

At Embry-Riddle, staff put on masks and gloves to put together commencement celebration packages for students to open this week. They contain the items they would have received at graduation. A custom label on the package instructs grads, “Do Not Open Until May 2” so its campuses worldwide can celebrate at the same time. For more information and more ideas, go to: Celebrate students and teachers!


This story was originally published at Chamber Business News.