“Congratulations, you are the middle school corona class of 2020.”
|[Korea International School’s 8th-grade promotion ceremony of 2020. Photo credits: June Yang]|
When South Korea was first hit by the Covid-19 virus, most schools around the country shut down in order to ensure the safety of their students. However, as the number of cases in Korea began to fall, many of these schools reopened their doors. Korea International School (KIS) is an example of such a school. After shutting down and making a transition to virtual schooling in February, the school reopened in late May. This meant many different things to the returning students- seeing their peers and teachers again, in-person final exams, and for the 8th grade class of 2020, a promotion ceremony.
Korea International School has a tradition of hosting 8th-grade promotions that are grander than most, in which many students choose to dress up in dresses and suits and get their hair and makeup professionally done. For many years, these ceremonies had been consistent; following a specific routine. However, due to the ongoing Covid-19 epidemic in Korea, there were many major changes that were made to the typical ceremony routine with social distancing ideals in mind. Multiple ceremony practices were held in order to help students adjust to these changes. For example, while there had been no limit to the number of guests students could invite to their graduation in past years, no more than two guests per student were allowed to attend 2020’s event. In order to ensure that these guests had enough room to be socially-distanced and therefore safe, the promotion ceremony, which would have been held in the school auditorium, was to be held on the main field. Both students and guests were advised towards sanitizing their hands multiple times and against removing their masks throughout the whole ceremony process. Additionally, a system was set up by the school for the guests to be escorted to and from their seats on the field by staff in order to prevent unnecessary interactions.
In the days leading up to the promotion ceremony, I asked eighth-grade students about their thoughts on the upcoming event. “I’m upset that we won’t have the same promotion experience as most eighth-graders had in the past, but I’m glad we’ll at least be having a ceremony,” one student stated after being questioned. About 70% of students interviewed had similar opinions to this, while 30% of students expressed their nonchalance about how and where the ceremony took place.
Graduation day itself was hectic- students had a socially-distanced awards ceremony, in which they all sat at least two auditorium rows and seats apart from each other, and a socially-distanced lunch, in which they could only communicate with each other through the glass panels separating them, before heading to the main field for their promotion ceremony.
As the whole 8th-grade class sat under the summer heat in their assigned seats, parents watching from behind them, they received a graduation speech from middle school teacher Trevor Cory, a speaker they had designated themselves.
“You are one of the only 8th grade classes in the whole world that are receiving a promotion ceremony this year. Congratulations, you are the middle school corona class of 2020.”
Following the teacher speaker, a student-designated student speaker, Joseph Lee, gave a speech dedicated to his peers as well. “Staying up all night studying in order to get straight As is okay,” he said. “As long as it’s what you want to do. The next four years of your life will shape the rest of it, so remember- do what makes you happy.”
Once the speeches came to an end, students were called up one by one onto a stage set up towards the front of the field, where they personally received a certificate of promotion from their principal. Due to social-distancing rules, parents were not permitted to stand near the stage and take pictures of their children. Instead, professional photographers were hired by the school to take pictures of the students at safe distances as they received their certificates.
|[A Korea International School student receiving a certificate of promotion from the middle school principal. Photo credits: June Yang]|
By the end of the outdoor ceremony, makeup was running down my face and my arms were sunburnt, but as I walked off of the field through a tunnel of waving teachers, all I felt was pride.
Seoyeon (June) Yang
Korea International School
Seoyeon (June) Yang firstname.lastname@example.org
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