class of 2020

‘We Did It': Graduating Seniors Find Silver Lining Amid Pandemic

“This group of students was born with 9/11 and now they go out with COVID-19 ... so I think they will make an impact on society, they will leave a footprint for those to follow."

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If you blink, you might miss the kid you’re looking for.

In Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ virtual high school graduations, each student is on the screen for about three seconds. It’s a far cry, of course, from walking across a stage, but there’s still anticipation and the graduates still have jitters.

“I’m feeling nervous, I’ve waited like, my entire life for this moment, even though it’s virtual, it’s better than nothing,” said Aaliyah Francois, a graduate of Norland Senior High School.

Aaliyah was dressed in cap and gown, her makeup was expertly applied, and she looked as if she was expecting to be seen by an auditorium full of people. The COVID-19 pandemic erased that dream. She was in her house, watching the online ceremony with her family. 

“It’s a big day, this is a moment the kids wait all their lives for, you know, so we just decided to make it as festive as realistic as possible for her,” said Aaliyah’s mom, Betty Nelson. "It’s better than nothing, I’m still extremely proud and I’m excited nonetheless.”

“Hey, that’s the best they can do,” said Aaliyah’s dad, Telson Francois, speaking about the virtual ceremony. “You still have social distancing stuff going on, people wearing masks everywhere you go, so I’m very pleased with this.”

He’s also proud of his daughter. Aaliyah is graduating among the top in her class at Norland High. Mom and dad decorated the house with balloons and made special t-shirts for everyone to wear. When her name and picture appeared on screen, there was a tremendous cheer in the living room.

“We salute you, we congratulate you, we are proud of you,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho in a message to the graduates of every school. 

The virtual ceremony includes messages of inspiration from educators, athletes and celebrities. 

“Class of 2020, you’ll always be remembered,” Dwyane Wade said.

“You guys are living a moment in history that has never happened and this is historic, it’s momentous,” said Gloria Estefan. 

“I know some people are discouraged right now,” said rapper Ludacris. “But don’t look at it as, 'Oh, my senior year was ruined,' look at it as, 'We are the strongest, we are the most resilient.'"

Actor Will Smith also sent a message, saying, “You are the first class in the history of the world to graduate like this.”

Graduating in a way no one could have anticipated when the school year began. So if adversity truly does build character, perhaps there’s a silver lining in this situation, because there’s no doubt the class of 2020 has overcome unprecedented obstacles to get to this point. 

“This group of students was born with 9/11 and now they go out with COVID-19, they go out with a situation like this, so I think they will make an impact on society, they will leave a footprint for those to follow,” said Norland High principal Ronald Redmon. 

He watched the ceremony with his administrative staff in his office, and felt like he was watching something historic during a tumultuous time in this nation. 

“I think everything that’s going around, the pandemic, dealing with everything that’s happening in our society today, these students are a part of of it and it happened during graduation time, it happened during their senior year, something they’ll never be able to forget,” Redmon said. 

It’s not ideal, but the online ceremony does provide a measure of recognition and it certainly gets graduates thinking big thoughts about reaching milestones.

“OK, so my message to the class of 2020 is, congratulations, we did it, I’m very proud of everyone, I’m proud of myself, and I’m excited for our new journey,” Aaliyah said.

Aaliyah's next step is college at Valdosta State University in Georgia, where she will study health sciences. 

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