High school graduation – South Portland

South Portland High School used a combination of prerecorded speeches and small in-person events to give their graduating seniors a safe, whole-school experience.


South Portland High School is a public school located in Maine, USA. It has a student population of approximately 900 and approximately 70 teachers. There were approximately 220 students graduating in the class of 2020. The virtual graduation ceremony was held on Sunday 7 June followed by five smaller in-person ceremonies at local elementary schools.

The South Portland High School case study is included for schools to consider bearing in mind their own context and needs. Local, state and federal restrictions on social gatherings are different in and across the USA.

South Portland high school sign South Portland high school sign

Equipment used

All graduation speakers were asked to record themselves doing their speech with their phones and computers at home. This allowed the students to rehearse and re-record as many times as they liked before submitting their video. The principal recorded their opening and closing remarks. Some music was mixed into the video. The school choir and acapella group also recorded a song from each of their homes.

The prerecorded video was shown on a local TV station and on the school’s website.

The local elementary schools offered their schools freely for the graduation ceremonies. Each location was set up to include staging, a podium, microphones, speakers and a photographer and sound technician for the entire ceremony.

The organisers considered other venues that would have allowed all of the students to attend in one place. They decided on using the local elementary schools because they had all of the required technology, adequate parking and facilities, and also meant that many students were graduating in a place they were familiar with.


South Portland High School held their in-person graduation ceremonies at 5 neighbourhood elementary schools. The event required lots of planning and coordination, and relied on the help of many volunteers from the school community.

Each student was placed at the elementary school they attended when they were younger wherever possible. Students were put into smaller groups within each school, so each venue had four or five groups of students, and they got their group and venue along with their graduation gear.

Every venue was set up in the same way so that students had a consistent graduation experience. The administrator at each venue gave the same speech. Students were allowed one car, and the school had a group of volunteers who picked up any students who would not otherwise have been able to get to the ceremony.

A professional photographer was at each venue, and the photos were added to a senior video celebrating the five ceremonies.

Social distancing and hygiene considerations

Everyone wore masks hand-made for the students and volunteers with the school colours and “2020” sewed on them by some volunteers.

Students waited in their cars until it was time for their group to get diplomas. The small groups meant that students did not have to spend much time waiting. Once each group had graduated they returned to their cars while the next group gathered.

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