Like so many things in the past three months, this year’s Portland Jewish Academy Eighth Grade Graduation Celebration was unprecedented and unforgettable. It started with lawn signs for each of the 21 graduates delivered by their teachers. It continued with a car parade in the PJA parking lot with lots of hoots and hollers, smiles and signs, and bags of goodies. The next day it culminated in a special Zoom graduation ceremony that included presentations from all the students.
“My favorite part of this untraditional graduation ceremony was being able to see the culmination of experiences that we’ve all had here, and how those experiences were expressed in everyone’s presentations,” says graduate Kai LaForte.
This eighth-grade class had to accept many disappointments this year, including missing their class trip to Israel. Throughout it all, students embraced the challenges of the time, and the PJA staff made the run-up to the end of their PJA experience truly remarkable.
“I am very grateful for all of my teachers at PJA, especially in these last few months after it became clear our eighth-grade class may not be able to travel to Israel,” says graduate Liana Kressel, who has attended PJA since age 3. “Since then, there have been major changes and disruptions in our PJA life, especially for the teachers. Even after all of this, the teachers made it a priority to give us an opportunity to make a graduation presentation that was meaningful to us. Every single one of my teachers has been there to support me and their dedication and commitment to their students has especially shown these past few months.”
For Kai, the biggest regret was not being able to say good-bye in person after the Zoom graduation. “It’s like, we’ve spent all this time together and we don’t even really get to say goodbye. We just log off and we’re done.” But, Kai adds, it’s not really regret, “just a little sad about it, you know?”
Liana says they did at least get to wave good-bye during the graduation drive-through the night before the Zoom graduation ceremony. After the ceremony, she texted her friends to congratulate them on graduating.
“It was not the same, but it made me feel better knowing that both the teachers and I have worked as hard as we possibly could to make it the most special graduation,” she says. “That’s all I could’ve asked for.”