Leader’s Digest with Principal Kristen Kuhlmann

Issue #3: A principal’s guide for celebrating the end of this unusual year

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Kristen Kuhlmann is a high school principal in Andover, Kansas.

I want to bring up something that I think has been on all our minds lately: finding a way to celebrate our students at the end of this challenging year.

Our kids are our “why.” It means so much to us school leaders to honor them at the year’s end – especially those students who are leaving our schools and moving into the next stage of their lives.

I thought about postponing our end-of-year celebrations until summer or fall, but when school ends, our graduates will go in different directions: starting careers, joining the military and preparing for college. Right now, they’re feeling the pride and momentum of graduating high school together. I couldn’t let that fade. 

We decided to hold a hybrid commencement ceremony for our seniors: part prerecorded, part livestreamed, all meaningful. Here’s a peek at what I’m doing:

  • Upholding treasured traditions. We’ll start with a video presentation of our traditional graduation speeches and performances. We’ll prerecord these so we can gather in our homes to watch – apart, but still together.
  • Creating the memories that matter. Our families will drive their seniors to school, spaced apart for safety, and watch them walk across an outdoor stage to get their diplomas.

And here’s the most important part: In this isolating time, we’ll come together to celebrate our school culture, our community and our kids!

You can find my step-by-step guide to planning a hybrid graduation ceremony here.

I know this isn’t what we pictured for our students, but that’s why I encourage you to explore the new possibilities I’m sharing here. Talking with my school community about what we can do to honor our students this year brought up a sense of loss about what we can’t do, but as we’ve built new plans, we’ve found new joy.

That’s part of what it means to be a leader: In times of challenge, we help our school communities find the rainbows in the rain.

Kristen Kuhlmann
High School Principal
Andover, Kansas

As the end of the year approaches, we may share moments of doubt or loss, but we can share gratitude, too: for the inspiration of our schools’ teachers and the encouragement of our students’ families. Above all, we can share pride in all the ways our students have grown. In the links below, fellow Ps share suggestions for bridging physical distance to celebrate your students and your community:

Using Social Media and Video to Celebrate Your Senior Students:

“For all that students are missing out on, there are some things we can’t allow them to lose.” As his school’s spring events were replaced by a wave of postponements and cancellations, Principal Erik Naglee began to imagine new possibilities for connection and celebration while staying physically distant. He and his team built a four-step process for honoring every senior as a community, on video and on social media. Check out Erik Naglee’s blog post here.

4 Ways to Celebrate High School Graduation This Year:

In this Edutopia article, school leaders share their perspectives and plans on end-of-year celebrations – from digital yearbooks and televised virtual graduations to socially distant gatherings, drive-in movie style. Some school communities may even tune in to former President Barack Obama’s commencement speech for the nationwide class of 2020. Read on to draw inspiration from your fellow principals. 

As we school leaders look ahead to the end of the year, we’re finding so many ways to build meaningful, memorable end-of-year celebrations in our school communities. What’s something you’re doing to bring your students, families and teachers together for a special end-of-year event? Click here to share your plans with fellow principals using #BetweenTheBells!

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