WILMINGTON — It was lights, camera, graduation over the last week at St. Elizabeth School.
With the coronavirus pandemic wiping out traditional graduation ceremonies all over the country, the Wilmington school came up with a unique way to honor its high school seniors, eighth-graders and kindergarten students. St. Elizabeth is producing a movie for each of the graduating classes that will stream on the night of commencement.
Caitlin Papili, St. Elizabeth’s director of marketing and communications, didn’t have to look far for assistance with the project. With her cousin, Luke, contributing his filmmaking talents, the past week has been a whirlwind of activity on Cedar Street.
Administrators at the school brainstormed ideas and listed what makes St. Elizabeth special. They are doing as much as they can to give the movies a Viking flair and maintain as many traditions as they can.
“We knew it was going to be a really big project, essentially producing three movies in a short period of time,” Papili said. “We wanted to do something that was a little more special.”
Upper school principal Terre Taylor said the idea was to “focus on the positives. Make sure each kid still gets his or her moment up there.
“I think, in a sense, it’s been a bit more personal for the kids.”
The high school seniors came by the St. E Center over six days, collecting their diploma and posing in front of a school background for photos. The eighth-grade students reported to the church at appointed times on May 19, walking across the front of the church to get their diplomas, which were set up on a table. The kindergarten ceremony is still in development.
A pair of eighth-graders, Mackenzie Hilferty and Luna Zurita, appreciated the chance to be in the spotlight. Mackenzie, who will be at St. Elizabeth High School in the fall, said she was upset when she found out her class would not have a traditional commencement, but as she learned more about the revised plans, she felt better.
“It’s pretty cool. I like that they came up with this idea,” she said.
She’ll be watching the ceremony on June 5 with her family at home and others tuned in elsewhere.
Luna likes that each student will get a copy of the video, but she hopes it’s not necessary after this year.
“Hopefully, nobody else has to go through this virtually and not with their classmates. This is really different,” said Luna, who will continue her studies at Charter School of Wilmington. “I’ve always dreamed about the perfect graduation, and then corona happened. It’s still a good graduation, but I wish we could all be together.”
A recent St. Elizabeth tradition had to be modified because of the pandemic. Normally, the three graduating classes walk the halls of the school, where they are cheered by the other students, faculty and family members. The high school seniors then place a Benedictine pin on each of the eighth-grade students.
“It’s kind of like a little block party,” Papili said.
This year, it was just the seniors walking the halls and in front of the school by themselves.
“Initially, they were a little disappointed that they weren’t going to have the real thing, but once they were here and on campus and seeing all the personalization, they were really excited and appreciative that we’re taking the time to showcase each student in a special way,” Papili said.
Each graduate was allowed to bring four family members, but they had to live in the same home. Taylor said the normal number of guests per grad at a high school commencement is five or six, so this wasn’t so different in that regard. One of the pluses for Taylor has been the opportunity to talk to individual students and families, which is limited at a traditional graduation.
“I’ve enjoyed having more of an opportunity to talk to those people. Normally, I don’t have the opportunity to see any families,” she said.
The high school movie will be streamed June 1, and the eighth grade will follow on June 5. Each graduate will receive a copy.
Taylor said the individual and unique nature of this year’s circumstances will give each graduate a chance to say, “We’re the class that graduated during a pandemic.”
That said, she continued, “I hope we never have to do this again.”