Students at all stages in Egypt have been dreaming about their graduation ceremony for years. However, as the big day nears, they have realised that a physical one is just not possible because of the restrictions in place to halt the spread of the Covid-19. As a result, more and more schools and students are turning to virtual graduation ceremonies instead.
The school year has gone by so fast, and the end is approaching, yet the social distancing rules are still in place, and high schools and universities across the country have started cancelling their graduation ceremonies. While this is an important step to slow the spread of Covid-19, at the same time it is a disappointment to students who have been looking forward to celebrating years of hard work.
Fortunately, members of the 2020 class have discovered they still have the chance to honour their success while avoiding risking their health. With advances in technology, it is easy to host a virtual graduation ceremony without breaking any social-distancing rules. It may not be the same, but it is perfect in terms of timing.
“The idea and implementation of the event came from the school’s CEO, Sara Al-Qalla,” said Sanaa Senari, the director of a Cairo school. “The idea was simple. We all missed the students a lot and wanted to convey that feeling to them. So, we started preparing a week earlier. Two days before the event, the school’s management delivered surprise gift boxes to all the students’ doorsteps containing personal protection items to be used during exams, a graduation cap and a pen. There was also a note telling them to prepare for a big event. Then, using our social media pages, we began to give them clues on what it would be, how to attend, where to send their videos, and so on,” she said.
“A hundred people or more worked on the event, from all staff levels,” Senari added. About dealing with the Covid-19 situation, she commented that “there is no denying that the coronavirus puts huge pressure on all our activities, but in our field of work, we care more than anything about our students, so we spare no effort to make them feel loved, safe, supported and encouraged.”
The event calendar was simple, and it was mainly to convey a message of support to the students. “It included speeches of support from all levels of staff, starting with our chairman, Hassan Al-Qalla, all the way to class teachers. The ceremony was about two hours long, which was fine bearing in mind that the students were going to start their exams two days later,” she added.
The school’s management decided to host the event on the school’s own online platform, and it was streamed live. The attendees included students, parents, friends, teachers and management members. “We would like to believe that no student missed it, but the fact is that there were those who had technical issues that forced them to miss the live event. Luckily, they were able to watch the recording,” Senari said.
The event had a great impact on the students, especially with the lack of any opportunity to meet their friends for almost 100 days in row. “The students were overwhelmed by the event, and they could not believe it was done online. Remember, this was the first event of this size to happen in Egypt. I just wanted to say to them all that ‘you are greatly missed, and we hope to see you really soon,’” she said.
“While virtual events may seem intimidating at first, celebrating life events and maintaining normalcy is important for all of us right now,” said Dina Al-Assal, a 32-year-old brand manager and the mother of a primary school graduate.
“We received the virtual graduation party invitation via e-mail before the event, and it required nothing from us except to be on time,” she said. Al-Assal’s son’s graduation event included “a small speech from the primary head, and then each teacher started to talk for one minute about every student in their classes. Then, a video was played gathering all the special moments in class during the year and some live sessions as well. There was a certificate sent by e-mail to each student by name.”
The ceremony lasted for an hour, and the primary head, class teachers, assistant teachers, student and parents all attended. “It was like three classes. Each had 20 students, and I didn’t see anyone missing. This event was only for the end of stage classes. The children were happy and excited. Mine was happy because it was the last day and summer break is now on,” Al-Assal added.
While it is hard for every mother to cope with the situation due to Covid-19, Al-Assal has had a different experience. “My kids and I dealt just fine with the learning process, as much as we could. We tried to be committed to each live session and to the homework sent,” she said.
VIRTUAL EVENTS: “The school informed us by e-mail three weeks prior to the event, and we got very excited,” said Mai Abdel-Hai, a 34-year-old financial inclusion manager and the mother of a five-year-old boy finishing his Kindergarten stage.
“They asked us to film the kids answering questions. They encouraged us to make graduation caps ourselves at home, but honestly most of us just bought them, and we received the certificate from the school in advance,” Abdel-Hai added.
“It was hard to study online due to Covid-19, especially as the kids are still very young, and they all need to communicate much better with their colleagues and teachers. They ought to go to school, meet each other, play and do activities. But the teachers were trying hard to make it work that they made enormous efforts. It was hard for me as well, not to mention coping with the classes, homework, working from home and the daily things needing to be done at home. My son got bored, and that was a hassle. But at the end of the day, we got closer and connected together more,” she said.
Regarding the programme, Abdel-Hai said that “they showed us a video including all the kids’ photographs from school and some parts of the video we had filmed lately. After that, we celebrated and received the certificates. Finally, they played songs for the kids to dance to. The attendees varied from the students, the main class teacher, the teaching assistants and the head of the stage who was there for a couple of minutes.”
“If you’re able to bring the most important people together for graduation on their special day, then the virtual event will be a success. My son had mixed emotions. He was happy having a party with his friends, but he and some of his friends were annoyed that the year was over,” she said.
“Our kids’ balance comes from various factors. One of these is routine, which makes them feel stable. This used to include meeting friends, attending sports classes, visiting grandparents and going to school. But all these have now vanished because of Covid-19,” said Asmaa Al-Saifi, a 32-year-old positive discipline coach. “Taking away these habits has led to stress, anxiety and higher levels of tension. Psychologists worldwide have reported these things since the start of the lockdowns.”
“The same thing applies to teenagers, who are eager to deal with society in a more direct way,” she added. “So, having such an event regardless of whether it is virtual boosts their morale and raises positive attitudes. It gives them the feeling that they are all connected and appreciated,” she said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 July, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly