Graduating seniors given hope

The graduating seniors at the Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Venice have experienced a turbulent final few months before they head off to college in the fall.

The coronavirus pandemic forced their Spring Break to be spoiled, then when they returned from two weeks away from the classroom, they didn’t physically return to their respective campus for in-classroom learning but instead began distance learning.

For the senior classes at Cardinal Mooney in Sarasota, Bishop Verot in Fort Myers, St. John Neumann in Naples, and the Donahue Academy in Ave Maria, some of the best parts of being a senior – prom, senior class trips, awards banquets, Baccalaureate Mass and finally graduation – were impacted.

These events were first postponed when it was hoped that in-class schooling could resume in early May, and then cancelled when it was announced that distance learning would continue through the end of the academic year.

While it seemed that all hope was lost that the seniors would miss out on everything, the respective school leaders have been working behind-the-scenes to find alternative, albeit tentative, solutions.

Diocese of Venice Interim Superintendent of Schools Ben Hopper, who is also Principal at Cardinal Mooney, explained that each school is working on a plan to hold traditional graduation events – Baccalaureate Mass, awards banquet, graduation, and possibly even prom – sometime in July.

“Although the Class of 2020 had many of its events postponed or canceled this spring, we wanted to acknowledge all of their hard work for the past four years, and we believe that they will be stronger for having to deal with so much change,” Hopper said. “We have been working behind the scenes trying to make sure that we can all celebrate their graduation at a later date.”

Dates for events for Cardinal Mooney and Bishop Verot seniors have been tentatively announced, while the Neumann and Donahue Academy events are still in the planning stages. Everything being planned for July is in the preliminary stages and will be conducted following all state and CDC health and safety guidelines. Of course, the events are all subject to postponement based upon health and safety conditions at the time.

In the meantime, the schools are celebrating their seniors in special ways.

On April 17, there was a Bishop Verot Live event for Seniors in which the school turned on the Stadium lights for 20 minutes and had a video with pictures and shout outs to the Class of 2020.

Cardinal Mooney “planted” graduation signs in the yards of graduating seniors, letting them know Mooney is proud of their achievements since schools will conclude the academic year with virtual instruction. The Mooney Class of 2020 comprises 133 students living in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties.

Bishop Verot delivered personalized signs to every senior, along with their caps and gowns, on April 24. Neuman was scheduled to do so on April 30.