Virtual graduation not the first choice for virtual students

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Virtual graduations have become common this year as schools across the country adjust plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday night, students who completed all of their schooling online through the Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy will also graduate in the virtual world.

Kendall Schroeder, the head of the school, explained this would have been one of the few opportunities for students to meet face-to-face with their teachers and celebrate.

“Many people would assume that virtual schools just do virtual graduations, but ever since we opened in 2013, we’ve been doing it face-to-face,” he said.

Fawn Muraske is the valedictorian for the MGLVA class of 2020, which has 240 students. She was disappointed when she found out she wouldn’t get to meet all of her teachers Thursday night in Lansing during the planned commencement.

She has been part of the academy since 7th grade after doing mostly homeschooling. 

The flexibility of the online program allowed her to spend much of her time in 4-H programs. She won the small animal Grand Slam Champion event in 2019 and started her own sheep shearing business with her younger sister. Muraske also showed dogs, which she wants to take into her future career path.

“I want to be a conservation officer and incorporate training dogs as a search and rescue unit,” she said.

That path will take her to Ferris State University where for the first time she’ll have to adjust to in-person classes.

“It will be a learning experience for sure. I’m definitely going to have to do things differently and make sure I take good notes the first time because I can’t just watch a recording to get the information again,” Muraske explained.

Schroeder pointed out the unique situation many of his students are in by the time they enroll in the online academy.

“This might have been their third or fourth choice because they struggled in some other area. This is a very culminating moment. One they strived for and thought may not have happened if this opportunity didn’t present itself. So, we want to be face-to-face to celebrate with them and shake their hands and meet their families,” he said. 

They will all settle for a virtual handshake during Thursday evening’s online ceremony.

Muraske has already recorded her valedictorian speech and sent it in to Schroeder. In it, she quotes J.R.R. Tolkien when Gandalf says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Muraske says in her speech, “I feel it relates to what is going on currently in our world. We cannot prevent this virus from happening, nor all the negative impacts it has forced on our lives. We can, however, choose to make the best of this horrendous situation and to not lose hope.  As 2020 graduates, we, for the most part, started life amidst a national tragedy with the 9/11 bombings. We have completed our big milestone of graduation during a global pandemic. We are strong and brilliant people ready to go out into the world to make a difference.”