Woodson Announces In-Person Graduation


Photo courtesy of Ms. Mandy Burke.

Four years of fortitude and grit culminate in one glorious moment: being handed an embossed piece of paper that signifies the end of high school. While the class of 2020 celebrated this moment through screens and a drive-through graduation, this year’s seniors will attend their graduation at Woodson’s Pat Cunningham Stadium June 2 at 9 a.m., despite COVID-19.

In order to accommodate Fairfax County Public Schools’ social distancing and sanitation requirements, the outdoor graduation will reflect conspicuous modifications, including mask requirements, seating arrangements and microphone sanitization.

Assistant principal and graduation administrator Ms. Mandy Burke says that everyone, including the audience, will be wearing masks and sitting six feet apart from each other in staggered rows.

However, despite these restrictions, Burke and the planning committee are finding ways to incorporate timeless traditions in unorthodox times. “We’re trying to hold true to everything,” said Burke. “We’re still pulling in those special things, just in different ways.” For instance, instead of excluding the Woodson band’s live performance of “Pomp and Circumstance,” she plans on pre-recording their music and playing it at the graduation so that seniors can still indulge in a classic procession while the number of attendees remains low.

Although this year’s graduation may be remembered for its audience limits and masked-subject photos, it will also be remembered as the first Woodson graduation to occur at the Pat Cunningham stadium in 15 years. Burke believes that “it’s an absolute honor to able to graduate [on school grounds].” Virtual learning has separated members of the class of 2021 from each other, and the opportunity to end a high school career where it first began only brings the students closer together.

Not only will this year’s class make history as the first to graduate at Woodson in over a decade, but they will also graduate in one of the biggest stadiums in the county. With more space for social distancing, all seniors will be given five tickets to invite friends and family to the in-person ceremony, which is more than some other sites are able to offer, according to Burke.

In past years, an individual graduation fee was about $100 to fund sound systems, venue bookings and decorations, but this year, FCPS is subsidizing part of production expenses, which halves the typical cost of a senior’s fee. “[It’s] a silver lining that we did not have to put that out on the kids to pay higher price tags, especially during COVID-19,” said Burke. “[FCPS] is trying to give us [and the seniors] everything they possibly can within the parameters.”

Photo courtesy of Ms. Mandy Burke.

Burke also elaborated on the graduation planning process where she attributed the success of graduation planning to Administrative Assistant Alexa Pugnetti, Athletic Director Warren Williams, Woodson Leadership and Student Council. Typically, she and her team will organize speeches, collect fees or check the audio, ensuring that the ceremony is memorable for each senior.

However, the impact of this year’s ceremony will not be remembered as much in carefully hung balloons or several guest speakers. This year’s ceremony will be cherished in unifying a community and class separated by screens and six-foot-long floor-markings as they celebrate years’ worth of academic achievements.

“[COVID-19] has taught us all that we can adapt and overcome it. Is it going to be hard? Are you going to struggle? Absolutely,” said Burke. “But as long as we work together, we, as a Woodson community, can really tackle anything.”