Around the ArchdioceseCOVID-19

Catholic high schools, colleges adapt graduations in light of pandemic

By Daniel Charland

Witness Correspondent

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since it was originally posted online and published in print to reflect changes since then.

DYERSVILLE — It’s no secret that the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the measures taken by authorities in response to it, have placed limitations on the daily life of the average person. Equally affected are the “once in a lifetime” events that fall during this time, such as weddings, holidays, and graduations.

For the high schools and colleges of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, the problem of how to handle their previously scheduled graduations has been tackled in different ways, such as by delaying ceremonies or ensuring medical safety measures are taken when they do occur.

While some high schools have already had their graduation ceremonies, others are still weighing options on how best to proceed. Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville is planning to have graduation exercises on Sunday, July 12. According to Beckman’s principal, Marcel Kielkucki, the school is doing its best to consider the input of all affected groups.

“We have a committee comprised of students, parents, and staff currently meeting to plan how we will be able to have this on that day,” said Kielkucki. “With the changing situation, we are developing plans for that day based on a number of circumstances and factors.  However, our goal is to have this be an in-person experience.”

One of the students on this planning group, Erin Bonert, demonstrated gratitude to her school for the care they are taking to plan the graduation, as well as the lessons she’s taking away from this experience.

Tyler Reid, a member of Xavier’s class of 2020, receives her diploma at the door of her home from Angela Olson, principal of the Catholic high school in Cedar Rapids, as Reid’s family watches.  (Photo provided by Xavier Catholic High School)

“Overall, I feel Beckman Catholic is doing whatever they can to make up for the time we lost,” stated Bonert. “I am thankful to have come from a school that cares enough about their students to do what they can to ensure we receive the graduation we all have been waiting for. As I step into the next chapter of my life I know it is not going to be easy or fair. With that being said, graduating under these circumstances has only showed me how to overcome challenges and the unfair things that I am going to be faced with!”

In Bellevue, the graduates of Marquette Catholic High School were able to have a private in-person graduation on May 24, the day it was originally scheduled. Working closely with the Jackson County Health Department, the ceremony was carefully planned to avoid any health risks and streamed live on the internet to allow others to view from a safe distance. After the ceremony, seniors were given the opportunity to share some of their memories and advice for younger students in video clips that were also livestreamed.

“For the people coming into high school, I’d just like to say, take advantage of what Marquette offers,” said Nick Hager, one of Marquette’s graduates, to the online audience. “I was going to do soccer this year; My last year … it got cut short. If you’ve got an opportunity to do something when you’re in high school and you’re saving it, I would do it right away because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Marquette currently plans to host a “Class of 2020 Celebration” for the late summer so the entire school community can celebrate.


Wahlert Catholic High School in Dubuque was also  scheduled to have their commencement ceremony live and in-person during a Mass on June 20. As part of the Mass, after the Eucharist, they planned to take time to individually recognize the graduates and allow them to walk across a stage. However, the ceremony was postponed due to concerns about the coronavirus. Officials are working on setting a new date.

Another high school that has opted for an in-person event with safety measures in place is Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo, which has announced that they will hold their Baccalaureate Mass inside the gymnasium and graduation at sports stadium with students on the field. Both locations have been arranged so that students and other participants can all stand six feet apart.

Don Bosco Catholic High School in Gilbertville is having a ceremony outside later this summer.

“We plan on having graduation for our seniors on July 12,” stated Casey Redmond, Don Bosco’s principal. “We plan to have the Baccalaureate Mass at Immaculate Conception in Gilbertville with the ceremony at our football field.  Immediately following the ceremony at the football field we have lined up a short fireworks show.”

Not all schools are opting for in-person services and ceremonies. On May 24, in Cedar Rapids, Xavier Catholic High School conducted a virtual commencement ceremony and Baccalaureate Mass, their originally-scheduled date, via a simulcast livestream on their website and Facebook page. According to Nick Ireland, Xavier’s communications director, one primary motivator was the desire to make sure the students knew they could move on.

“It was important to us to offer our seniors closure on their high school chapter knowing that their hearts and minds were already moving on to whatever their next destination is … and we wanted to remove any cloud of uncertainty that may have lingered into the summer as it related to officially graduating our seniors,” said Ireland.

This event was preceded by personal presentations of diplomas at students’ homes by the principal, Angela Olson, who traveled with a small video production crew. According to Ireland, the visits bore witness to a surprising variety of home celebration styles.

“We experienced confetti cannons, balloons, musical instruments, a pool jump, a motorcycle drive-by, and even a chicken release. It was great to see the smiles on the faces of our seniors and their family members … and to capture that to share as a special part of our virtual ceremony,” said Ireland.

While the possibility of a face-to-face celebration later in the summer exists, the school is still conducting research to determine if and how this should be done.

Xavier High School graduate Josh Volk receives his diploma in his family’s yard during a visit by Principal Angela Olson. (Photo provided by Xavier Catholic High School)

Regarding the Catholic Colleges of the Archdiocese, Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids held its virtual Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 17. Clarke University’s 2020 Commencement will occur much later on Saturday, October 3, merging together commencement with the college’s 2020 Homecoming, as well as their One Hundred and Seventy Seventh Founders’ Day. Graduates unable to attend have been encouraged to attend the May 2021 Commencement as compensation. Similarly, Loras College will have its own in-person commencement on October 9 during its own homecoming week. Loras College President, Jim Collins, said that this decision was made based on student feedback to see what would work best for them.

“The administration and I worked with student government leadership to determine the best route forward,” said the president. “As such, we administered a survey and had almost 60 percent of the class respond.”

While the ramifications of the pandemic caused the need for improvised change in how to handle these milestone events in students’ lives, both schools and students have risen to the occasion and made the most of a situation they couldn’t control.

“This year can certainly be summed up in a word Father [Dennis Miller] used as well — transition,” said Geoff Kaiser, Marquette’s principal, at the school’s graduation ceremony.  “For seniors, certainly, it’s a noticeable transition from one chapter to another in their lives … I’d also like to mention too that transition is a word we can use for our teachers, staff and our entire school community. At Marquette, we were able to transition our regular classrooms to everyday online digital learning opportunities. Parents at home transitioned to the role of stay-at-home parents that were also assisting their students in their academics. And many transitioned in their own work to becoming essential employees. We will continue to transition at Marquette as we make plans to return to learn in the fall…”

Whatever the style of graduation, it’s a safe bet that the high school and college classes of 2020 will each have a memorable graduation year, each with unique stories to recall years down the road.


Feature photo: Angela Olson (far right), principal of Xavier Catholic High School, delivers a diploma to graduate Taylor Coester outside her home. (Photo provided by Xavier Catholic High School)