Penn Harris Madison Schools preparing for in-person commencement

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Another St. Joseph County school district is making plans for an in-person commencement ceremony this summer. Penn Harris Madison (PHM) Schools are planning such a ceremony for Penn High School's graduating seniors.

Penn seniors traditionally have commencement at Notre Dame, but since the university announced it will not be opening for outside organizations this summer, PHM is resorting to plan B: an in-person commencement ceremony on Penn High School's campus either in the gymnasium or outside on the football field. The district said it has two dates set as possibilities for the ceremony: July 18th and July 25th. Leaders are waiting to formalize the plan until they can go over survey results from the community.

The district said it sent out a survey to community members to get their input on what they would like to see in an in-person commencement. That survey is due back on Tuesday.

Penn High School Principal Sean Galiher said the district is also getting guidance elsewhere.

"Recently, we've been partnering with (St. Joseph County Health Department Deputy Health Officer) Dr. (Mark) Fox and looking at some alternative ideas for later in the summer, towards the end of July," Galiher said. "We're surveying out parents, trying to get some feedback from them on what they think we should look at planning in terms of an in-person commencement. So, we've been throwing around a few ideas, but we'll be hosting something on campus at Penn High School."

Galiher said Penn's graduation typically brings in a crowd of about five to six thousand people. So, he said the district is prepared to limit the number of guests per graduate.

"We're not quite sure if it will be inside or outside, yet, but we are making plans to most likely do smaller gatherings and not have all of our graduates there at one time, but the idea is we want to recognize every graduate and give them a chance to walk across the stage," Galiher said.

Others in the district say they are thrilled with the idea of giving the 2020 graduates the proper sendoff.

"I think they should (have a ceremony)," PHM Food Services Employee Kim Silveus said. "They could do it outdoors and social distance a little bit. They've missed out on so much, I really feel like they should have a commencement for them in some form, in person."

Silveus said she has two kids who graduated from high school years ago and said that for the 2020 seniors, an in-person ceremony is very important.

"It's a major milestone in their life," Silveus said. "I think it's very important for them to have this sense of closure and accomplishment and just end their year on a high note, really."

As PHM's commencement announcement comes a day after the South Bend Community School Corporation announced its own in-person commencement ceremony, Principal Galiher said he will be in touch with that district to see how it is putting everything together.

"I'll definitely, most likely reach out and see what kind of ideas they have in mind for their outdoor event," Galiher said.

Galiher also said the already planned virtual commencement set for May 29th will still go on as planned.

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