Yard signs. Banners in the town center. Car parades. Lots of virtual recognitions.
These are some of the ways suburban high school educators are making the final school year special for graduating seniors amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
Illinois' stay-at-home order now extending through the rest of the school year has foiled many time-honored senior milestones, including athletic events, proms, spring plays and concerts, special recognitions and, most importantly, graduation ceremonies that have been canceled or delayed until summer.
"Our heart goes out to all these kids because they have missed so many markers in their life," said Daniel Klett, principal of Wauconda High School. "We want to give hope to kids. We are trying to find ways to keep them engaged and let them have something that they can remember of a poor situation."
Many seniors might consider the setbacks a disappointment. But Sam Bogner of Schaumburg has found a silver lining.
"I've never really seen my school more united than it is now," said the 18-year-old Schaumburg High School senior. "All the staff and students are working together just to kind of honor each other and make the best out of the situation."
Bogner said seniors are making a video honoring spring sports and activities that have been the highlight of their high school years, compiling quotes and memories for the school yearbook, and creating a map of the colleges students will attend.
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 has other activities in the works, including drive-by parades, virtual recognitions and lighting up stadiums on Friday nights. The district is moving ahead with separate virtual graduation ceremonies for its five schools on originally scheduled dates in May. Officials also are exploring the possibility of live gatherings in June or July.
"Even though we are not able to actually be there, we still have plenty of opportunities to symbolically be there," said Bogner, who is excited about picking up his cap and gown next week. "I'm going to be walking across my living room on May 20. (It) is a really big deal for me."
Many school leaders are holding out hope that live graduation ceremonies will be possible this summer.
Wauconda's Klett has set a tentative July 21 date for in-person graduation, and is trying to set a date for prom that month as well. The school is planning a virtual graduation in early June for 320 seniors. Students will submit photos and 10-second videos wearing their gowns and honor cords, and some will deliver speeches.
Elgin Area School District U-46 canceled its five high school graduations for more than 2,600 seniors that had been rescheduled for July 11 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates. Instead, the district plans virtual celebrations June 13. Officials also have been planting "Class of 2020" yard signs at seniors' homes.
Streamwood High School officials recorded a special video for seniors, singing to the tune of the "Friends" theme song, "to let them know that we care for them and we are here for them," Principal Jennifer Van Deusen said.
"Our yard sign is not going to replace the memories of prom and of a ceremony," Van Deusen said. "We want to honor their accomplishments and recognize them. We are trying to do that on a community level."
End-of-year recognitions and honors night for the top 2% of graduating seniors will be done virtually. And funds students raised for prom will go toward a class reunion in December, she said.
Northwest Suburban High School District 214 is planning a separate virtual commencement ceremony for each of its six schools May 20. In-person graduations complete with caps and gowns on football fields will occur if the state allows large gatherings in June, July or August.
Naperville Unit District 203 is planning for in-person graduations in July. Naperville North has prom scheduled for July 17 and graduation July 19, at the Embassy Suites in Naperville. Yearbooks, caps and gowns will be distributed in May, while other senior traditions are under review.
"It's important that we give seniors that closure," District 203 spokeswoman Sinikka Mondini said. The graduations are planned "far enough in the future that we hope will be able to come to fruition," she said.
Winfield Village President Erik Spande has offered to put up banners honoring seniors from West Chicago High School District 94, Wheaton-Warrenville Unit District 200, St. Francis High School and Wheaton Academy.
"A banner in Town Center isn't the same thing, but it is the least we can do," he wrote on Facebook.
Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire is recognizing graduates with "Senior Shoutouts" on Instagram. Parents have created yard signs honoring seniors and organized a sale, with proceeds benefiting the Stevenson Foundation's fund to help struggling families.
"We are putting together some videos to honor graduating seniors that will be released throughout the month of May," spokesman Jim Conrey said.
Officials have set tentative dates for prom and graduation in June and July at the Sears Centre. If large gatherings aren't allowed until August or later, the school will not have commencement or prom, Conrey said.