Eighth grade graduations 2020-style

Catholic Schools pride themselves in providing students with a well-rounded faith-filled education all with a little fun in the mix.

A scene from the outdoor eighth grade graduation st St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral on May 20, 2020.

It should come as no surprise that when it came to the eighth-grade graduation ceremonies and events recognizing these students, fun affairs complete with caps and gowns were organized.

For example, St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, where a formal graduation is tentatively planned for July, it was decided that a socially distanced parade would be a good way to honor the eighth graders.

On May 21, 2020, with Bradenton Police, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Manatee County Fire Rescue vehicles in the lead, the sirens and honking horns of dozens of vehicles brought smiles from the students and their proud parents. Alumni, schoolmates, teachers, community members and family members were invited to participate. Vehicles were decorated with messages recognizing the school, students and teachers alike. Several vehicles were covered in balloons or had colorful writing on windows, while others had cheering adults and children waving signs.

As the vehicles passed the students, with their family, stood about 10 feet apart along the fence line, next to a sign with their formal class portrait. The eighth graders reciprocated by waving and cheering when they saw their schoolmates and teachers with whom they have been apart these past two months.

Principal Deborah Suddarth said the parade was a huge success and was pleased with the turnout of supporters. “You feel bad for these students to have lost out on some of the best parts of being an eighth grader. This was a gift to them because they truly were a special group of students that made St. Joseph Catholic School a great place. We are going to miss them.

This car is decorated for the May 21, 2020, eighth grade parking lot graduation at St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota.

A few days earlier, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers held a drive-thru graduation which began as a tailgate party in the school parking lot on May 20, 2020. Once the official ceremony began, the vehicles worked their way through the parking lot and before exiting onto Heitman Street, across from the main entrance to the school, the vehicles stopped, and each new graduate was presented with their diploma.

Other Diocesan elementary schools did variations of graduations and recognitions. Graduations at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, and St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota, were held in the parking lot, with only students coming forward and receiving their diplomas.

Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School was the first to have a graduation ceremony that was closest to what would have been expected pre-pandemic. The biggest difference in the event inside the Cathedral was that there was no Mass and the ceremony May 22, 2020 was limited to immediate family only.