16 Graduation Ideas for When Schools Are Closed

Graduation Ideas When Schools Are Closed

Graduation and moving-up ceremonies don’t have to be canceled because schools are closed. Communities all over the country are coming up with clever ways to celebrate milestone moments in students’ lives.

by Terri Frank


Editor’s note: Due to the wide variety of community responses to the coronavirus pandemic, please consult with state and local social distancing and quarantine guidelines before pursuing activities that may require students and families leave home.

Graduation, whether from kindergarten or high school, will certainly be unusual this year due to coronavirus-related school closures. Schools have had to cancel or delay traditional end-of-year field days, class trips, banquets, dances, and awards ceremonies.

But there will still be some pomp and circumstance thanks to parent groups, teachers, and school districts across the country who are determined to make graduating students feel special. Here are some of our favorite plan B moving up and graduation ideas that parent groups can tailor for their schools.

Delaying ceremonies until social distancing guidelines have been lifted is an idea that is gaining popularity among many schools that want to hold traditional events and invite families. The challenge they face is setting a date (or two) when there’s still so much uncertainty. For younger grades, many districts and schools are planning to hold moving up ceremonies the week before the new school year begins. 

Yard signs that say “Congratulations, Graduate” and the school name are popping up in yards and front windows this spring. Parent group leaders in our PTO and PTA Leaders & Volunteers Facebook group suggest sourcing signs from local printers for pricing deals and to support the local economy.


Parent groups and teachers alike are planning graduation parades to honor students who are moving up this spring. Much like they’ve done throughout the weeks of school closures to help reinforce community and togetherness, parents and teachers will decorate their cars with signs and balloons and drive through neighborhoods to celebrate. If you plan a parade, make sure local guidelines allow this type of activity under social distancing guidelines.

Class T-shirts are a popular gift every year, but this year some schools are fully acknowledging the current pandemic. One school’s 6th grade moving up T-shirt says “BE Graduates 2020 the One Where They Were Quarantined,” while other shirts say “Straight Outta Quarantine 2020.”


Some teachers and parent groups are creating Facebook slideshows to give virtual shout-outs to students. Students (or their parents, in the case of younger grades) provide their name, a photo (baby pictures are always popular), their favorite activities, their favorite subject, and fun facts about themselves. High school graduates also add activities, honors, and future plans.

Other teachers and principals are planning year-end Zoom or Google Classroom meetings or a livestream on YouTube to celebrate students moving on to new schools. Slideshows or video montages will show each student’s school photo while their teachers share messages of encouragement.

Some school districts are using Twitter to honor graduating students, asking families to reply to their posts and share senior photos for the district's followers to see and share in the celebration.


One elementary school plans to take a virtual 5th grade graduation one step further with social distancing photo sessions of students in caps and gowns. Photos will be taken at the school at prescheduled times to allow teachers to sanitize between appointments. The photos will appear in a slideshow the school will share on its website and Facebook.

If you’re not comfortable doing that type of photo session in your community, try emailing a printable Class of 2020 sign to parents and ask them to take photos of their child posing with it. Then parents can send the photo to the PTO volunteer or school staff member to be included in a class slideshow.

The Hanover (Penn.) Area School District rented a nearby drive-in movie theater to hold their high school graduation. Families will watch prerecorded valedictorian and salutatorian messages and a prerecorded ceremony with a slideshow of all the graduates from the comfort of their cars. Bonus– everyone is welcome to stay and enjoy a movie and inspirational messages from parents after the ceremony.

Several schools are planning drive-through moving-up gift distributions. One middle school will fill drawstring bags (customized with the school name and logo) with coupons to local businesses and a congratulations letter from the principal to hand out to departing 8th graders. While keeping within social distancing guidelines, families will drive through the school’s parking lot at a designated time to pick up the gift and say goodbye to teachers.

Build-your-own-mascot kits are popular gifts for students. Parent groups are shopping online suppliers and choosing an appropriate animal or bird option for their school. Each kit arrives with a mascot to stuff, the stuffing, a fabric heart, a tiny T-shirt, and adoption certificate. Crafty parents are even personalizing T-shirts with school logos.

Local TV networks and cable access channels are running shout-outs to graduating high school students during newscasts and commercial breaks. Similar to what parent groups and teachers are doing for slideshows, news outlets are asking for parents to supply photos, achievements, hobbies, and future plans.

Lincoln (Alabama) High School seniors are appearing on banners hanging from light poles around town. What started as an idea by the elementary and middle school PTA president to honor student athletes has grown to include every senior in the class of 2020.

One Tennessee high school parent created an Adopt a Senior 2020 page on Facebook where people in her community can choose a student to donate a graduation gift to. Other communities are doing the same; to see if your community is involved, search Facebook for “Adopt a Senior 2020” and your town or city name.

School signs are a good fit for almost every budget. Check with local suppliers for deals or sponsorship, or order banners online, and post or hang them at the front of the school for maximum impact. If your school has a digital sign, ask the administrator to post a celebratory message during the last week of your school year.

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