Celebrating Graduates in the Midst of COVID-19

Current Events & News, Parent & Family Engagement, Who We Are | 05/26/2020

Karen Clark
Development and Operations Manager

Karen manages charitable giving & operations for Stand Louisiana & is committed to the New Orleans community

Graduating college a few years ago was a phenomenal capstone to my academic career. I was so proud to participate in what we’ve come to recognize as a rite of passage: listen to my commencement speaker, walk across the stage, receive my diploma, and move my tassel from right to left.

There’s been much conversation about what graduates at every level are missing during Covid-19: kindergarteners, fifth graders, high school seniors, college graduates, advanced degrees, and everyone completing a successful year of education. 

Across the country and across the globe, people have stepped up to celebrate graduates in creative ways. We’ve seen car parades, virtual graduations, initiatives to ‘adopt a senior’, yard signs, and virtual parties. 

So when I had the chance to play a small role in celebrating a graduate in my chosen hometown of New Orleans, I couldn’t say no. I saw a post by a stranger named Jacky in a Mutual Aid group on Facebook requesting a graduation cap and gown for a friend, Jess, whose SUNO graduation ceremony had been canceled. Jacky currently lives in Alaska but the two had met in New Orleans three years ago. I was inspired by the effort Jacky was putting into celebrating her friend’s academic accomplishments from over 4,000 miles away.

Luckily, I’d dressed as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter world for Mardi Gras the previous year, and had worn a graduation gown from Goodwill as my wizarding robes. Even luckier, Jess, the graduate, was 5’2’’, just like me!

 

So I messaged Jacky in Alaska – of course she could have my gown! Unfortunately, Hermione hadn’t worn a graduation cap while attending Hogwarts, so I didn’t have that to offer. Jacky searched the Mutual Aid Facebook group but found no graduation cap, so reached out to her longtime friend Ellie who makes beautiful crowns for all occasions (you can see them on her website here and Instagram).

 

Jess had graduated from SUNO, so Ellie made a beautiful crown in her school colors.

With Jacky being in Alaska, she couldn’t deliver the gown and crown to her friend. So, I very happily hopped in my car, donned my own fabric mask to flatten the curve, and headed to Ellie’s to pick up the crown. I put the crown and the gown into a bag and left them inside Jess’s gate. Jess knew nothing of Jacky’s efforts – this would be a total surprise.

I sent Jess, a complete stranger, a text message telling her to look for a small white bag inside her fence. I’d already left so I didn’t see her find the bag or its contents. But I received a text a few minutes later – the small gesture of congratulations for years of hard work brought her tears of joy.

 Jess, in her gown and crown, photographed by Michelle of Spark and Glow.

But the Mutual Aid Facebook group connections didn’t stop there! Jess wanted to find a photographer to capture her dressed in her gown and crown, who was also willing to follow safety guidelines. Jess came across the incredible Michelle of Spark and Glow, who took a series of fantastic graduation photos to last a lifetime.

That’s what I love about my chosen city and state – the people of Louisiana will go out of their way to celebrate wins, find light in darkness, and build community. From Jacky in Alaska posting in a New Orleans Mutual Aid Facebook group, to an talented crown maker in New Orleans, to a donated costume, to a creative photographer, Jess knows just how much her community – friends and strangers alike – want to celebrate her achievements.

If you have a story celebrating a graduate in your life, we’d love to hear about it. Please send any stories and pictures to lainfo@stand.org.

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