It looked almost like old times.
If it wasn’t for the required face masks being worn by everyone, the graduation ceremonies had all the hallmarks of a traditional commencement.
Hundreds of students wearing caps and gowns walking across the stage to receive their diplomas, "Pomp and Circumstance" playing on the speakers, moms and dads applauding in the audience.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools began staging graduation ceremonies Tuesday for its 65 high schools and 20,000 graduating seniors.
The events are happening at Florida International University’s basketball arena and at two air conditioned tents on the grounds of the Youth Fair nearby.
“One chapter’s over and we’re starting another one and I also really like that we got to do a final last hurrah,” said Sofia Bohorquez, who graduated today from MAST@FIU Academy.
Eric and Patricia Costa watched their son, Kevin, reach this milestone.
“Being teachers ourselves, it’s a pleasant change, I can’t believe we’re turning the corner and we’re headed in that direction back to normalcy,” Eric Costa said.
“I’m so proud of him, he worked very hard to get where he’s at,” Patricia Costa said about her son.
There’s palpable joy at these ceremonies that goes beyond the typical graduation event, because for these kids, in the class of 2021, it’s the only time in more than a year when all of their friends, whether they went to school in person or stayed home for virtual learning, are together again.
“It is, quite frankly, humbling to see so many of our dear friends in one place, it’s like we have arrived,” said superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Last year, all the commencement ceremonies were virtual. Each student saw their picture on the screen for three seconds.
What a difference a year makes.
“It’s nice to see all my friends I haven’t seen for a long time,” said Kevin Costa, part of the MAST@FIU Academy class of 2021. “So it’s nice to reconnect, it’s nice to see my old teachers again, and it’s nice to feel this warm welcome of community and everybody getting together again.”
“This year was extremely difficult, and these kids couldn’t go out and do anything, it was all virtual, and that I have to say was the hardest thing, what the kids have been through is unbelievable,” said Sherry Werner, whose daughter graduated today.
“Oh it’s amazing, I haven’t seen so many people in over a year, so it’s like a really amazing experience to finally be done with high school and go off to college soon,” said Sascha Ajenor, who is going from MAST@FIU to Dartmouth College in the fall.
So it’s on to bigger and better things, right?
“It’s happy and sad ‘cause you never know, hopefully our paths will reconnect,” said graduate Ivan Campos in a moment of reflection.
Whether they keep in touch or not, at least the class of 2021 is having a proper send-off.