CHICAGO — Graduating high school seniors celebrated their big day a bit differently this year in Chicago.
Because the pandemic makes it impossible to hold large gatherings, the City of Chicago hosted a “virtual graduation” which was broadcast live on WGN.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot brought together some big names from sports and entertainment to help send off the class of 2020, while at the same time re-imagining what a graduation ceremony can be during a pandemic.
Empty seats at Solider Field underscored the strange circumstances of the class of 2020’s graduation day, as the fear that large gatherings could spread the coronavirus meant the graduation venue would be virtual instead.
“I know a lot of you hoped at the end of this year you’d be able to walk across a stage like this, and celebrate with your family and friends,” “Hamilton” star Miguel Cervantes said. “Unfortunately because of everything that’s happening in 2020 we don’t get to do that, but thanks to Mayor Lightfoot, we’re going to make up for it.”
“I don’t want this to be a speech about 2020, I want this to be the start of a conversation about 2030,” Lightfoot said, challenging the city’s 35,000 graduating seniors to remake the world according to their own ideals.
“I you ask yourself, ‘How can I do my part to contribute to a better tomorrow for myself, my family and my community,” Lightfoot said.
A number of students reflected on the challenges of the year, and what was lost: basketball games, proms and of course graduations. But graduations are celebrations, and the Dunbar Marching Band provided a party-like pivot.
The hour-long program included a message from Illinois Governor JB pritzker
“I want to thank you for doing your tremendous part for keeping our community safe by social distancing — even on your big day,” Pritzker said.
Students also heard from sports stars and spiritual leaders. A variety of valedictorians delivered a message in one voice: there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“Congrats, Chicago Class of 2020 wishing you all the best in the future,” said Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.
“History will recount how the graduating class of 2020 persevered in the face of great odds and personal hardships,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Oprah Winfrey delivered the commencement address, saying this generation is up to the challenge of dealing with what she called twin diseases: COVID-19 and racism.
“Your graduation is taking place at watershed moment in our country’s history,” Winfrey said. “I believe this time things can be different, at this moment of protest and dissent, whether we choose to march in the streets or not we are each being called to reckon with our country’s past and determine a more equitable future.”
The end of the program also included a number of teachers congratulating their students, and shots of students with their diplomas already in hand.