Bonn International School BIS students graduate during the COVID-19 crisis

Bonn · They may not have had the usual graduation ceremony but graduates of Bonn International School were still able to don their caps and gowns and walk through their school one last time. BIS students share their thoughts about graduating during the COVID-19 crisis.

 Graduates from Bonn International School walk through the school in cap and gown.

Graduates from Bonn International School walk through the school in cap and gown.

Foto: BIS

Normally, seniors graduating from Bonn International School (BIS) would be stressed out in spring because of upcoming International Baccalaureate Exams. On the other hand, they would look forward to dressing up and going to prom. They would hold a senior breakfast. They would spend hours planning and delivering the annual “senior prank” on the rest of the school. But these are not normal times with the COVID-19 pandemic, the exams were cancelled and traditions had to be put aside. But especially during these unusual times, the smallest of gestures can take on a heap of meaning.

There were 63 students who graduated from BIS this year. The students came from 28 countries on five different continents, from Brazil to Nepal, Kenya to Germany, Taiwan to Lithuania.

Although the students didn’t have a graduation ceremony, each student was given the chance to walk through the school in cap and gown at a safe distance while Grade 11 students applauded. As the graduating seniors came in to clear out their lockers and return books, they were issued a cap and gown, and given the opportunity to do a celebratory walk. This didn’t happen all at once, a few students came in each day.

Graduating student Olivia described the experience like this, “Being able to walk through the school in a cap and gown allowed for us to gain some closure. As corona caused exams to be cancelled, we never got the opportunity to say goodbye to the environment which we spent learning, stressing, laughing and growing up in.” Emma, also a graduating student, said “walking through the school felt surreal because the school was mostly empty.” But she noted with humor that this year’s grads had three pieces to the “graduation “uniform” – cap, gown and mask!”

Secondary principal Will Tragert said that the idea to celebrate the graduates by letting them walk through the school in cap and gown came from Diploma Programme Coordinator Peter Owen, the student’s pastoral and academic leader throughout Grades 11 and 12. Tragert observed, “Grade 12 students got to feel appreciated and received some sense of recognition from the school. Students could participate in a much-loved tradition and have photos taken in a safe way.”

And what about those all important IB exams? Tragert explained, “The International Baccalaureate will determine final grades based on a range of factors, i.e. predicted grades, internal assessments and other work submitted through Grades 11 and 12.” German universities and other universities have all said they will recognize these IB diplomas.

While the school figured out a fitting and poignant way to honor the students as their time at BIS came to a close, the future still holds uncertainties for the young graduates because of the corona crisis. “I’m sure that many students will have second thoughts on attending their desired universities abroad and will possibly have to reconsider their university choices,” said graduating student Joby, who now intends to study in Berlin instead of in the U.K. Emma said she still plans to attend university in North America in the fall, but what that will look like, she doesn’t know. Olivia noted that the health crisis brought stress and confusion, as students had to come up with contingency plans in case they were not able to start their first year at the university itself. But, she added, “this also makes me think we may be one of the most organized group of first year university students, which is always a positive.”

Even though the graduate experience was not what anyone had planned or expected, there were some positive take-aways from the graduates. Emma noted that the “end of year” stress was reduced because exams were eliminated, giving her time for hobbies. Olivia said she was disappointed that some things she had planned with friends were cancelled, but she had been “thinking back on the good times I have already had, rather than focusing on the ones I can't immediately experience.” Joby’s thoughts might be echoed by many, “After Germany initiated its lockdown, it made me realize all of the small things that we usually take for granted. For example, meeting up with friends, attending family gatherings, or visiting Bonn city center are all activities that are rarely appreciated in the moment. None of us cherish the moments until they are no longer available to us.”

One can say that the BIS graduating Class of 2020 has experienced a year like no previous BIS graduates. They have seen exams and school events cancelled, which once would have seemed unimaginable. And while some uncertainties may still await, it sounds like some valuable insights have been gained.

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