Graduation parties change with COVID-19
By Rich Palzewic
BROWN COUNTY – Usually during this time of the year, local graduates and their families are busy planning parties to celebrate the end of an academic career.
But this summer, garages and back yards will be emptier than normal because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some are choosing to cancel parties altogether, while others will have smaller gatherings at home or in parks.
“I’m not having a party,” said De Pere senior Sam Hafner, who will be playing Division I FCS college football at Valparaiso University in Indiana. “My dad works in a hospital, so we didn’t want people to get worried about coming over to our house.”
Hafner said before COVID-19, his family would’ve had a normal party in his back yard with games.
“One of my friends also did a drive-by graduation party,” he said.
Sam Plumb, a senior at Bay Port, will be attending Division III UW-Whitewater to play football.
“I’m going to have a party, but my family is still trying to figure out a date,” said Plumb, whose sister, Hattie, recently graduated from Illinois State, while his brother, Jack, plays football at the University of Iowa. “Many parties have been pushed to late July or early August, but my parents are looking at late June or early July.”
Plumb said his brother’s party in 2018 was held at his grandma’s house on Lake Leone in Suamico.
“We had two tents set up because it was sunny,” he said. “My party will be lots different from Jack’s because we had tables smushed up against each other. We’ll move those 6 feet apart to help with social distancing.”
Plumb said his grandma’s house has a sunroom, where two years ago, 50 people were crammed into putting food on their plates.
“We can’t have that this year,” he said.
Plumb said his sister will have her friends get together for a celebration for her graduation, but that most likely won’t happen this summer.
“We had a date in mind for Sam’s party, but when COVID hit, we thought, ‘Maybe not,’” said Susie Plumb, Sam’s mom. “When Hattie and Jack graduated, we had tons of people over, but this one will be different. I don’t know how, but it will be. I think about people’s comfort level. They might be invited but not feel comfortable coming – we understand that. It makes it hard to plan for how much food to prepare, and we don’t want to ask people to bring their food. It wouldn’t be much of a party if you have to bring your food. We want to celebrate with the kids somehow, but we are trying to find creative ways to do it.”
Susie Plumb said it’s hard to plan for a party when so much is unknown.
“At least with it being on Lake Leone, there’s plenty of room outside to spread out and enjoy the outdoors, but what happens if it rains?” she said. “Typically, if that happened, we’d have guests in the house, but that creates another problem. Nobody will forget this time in history, that’s for sure.”
Green Bay school board member Dawn Smith, who was elected in April, has two daughters, Emilie and Marie, who graduated from Green Bay West High School in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Her oldest daughter, Emilie, recently graduated from St. Norbert College and will be attending law school in Madison beginning this fall.
Although heartbroken, Smith said having different-looking graduation parties during this time is the responsible thing to do – at least in her opinion.
“For both of my girls in high school, we had parties at Mather Heights Park,” she said. “We had about 50 people – family, friends and out-of-town guests. Even though we had people outside in a park setting, we still had people eating food inside.”
Smith said college graduation parties are usually different – not quite as big and more intimate.
“We were going to have a family dinner at Angelina’s for Emilie,” she said. “We weren’t able to do that, but I’m hoping we can at a later date. I feel terrible she missed out on the celebration and St. Norbert’s graduation. That’s been rescheduled for late August, but she’ll have started law school by then and won’t be able to come back for it.”
Smith said she’s asthmatic, so she has to be extra careful.
“I’m safely expanding my bubble, but I have a 91-year-old grandma in assisted living who I haven’t seen since the beginning of March,” she said. “If someone has a graduation party and 50 people are there, any one of those people – we are hearing of entire congregations getting sick – can spread the virus. If you’re going to have a party outside at a park and can safely limit the number of people, it’s better compared to being inside. I’m personally going by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines. I’m just not sure any graduation party is worth getting people sick.”
Smith said she recognizes the fact both of her girls experienced high school graduation parties and in-person graduation, so she might think differently if one had been graduating this year.
Another aspect affected by the lack of guests invited to a party is the financial deficiencies it may cause for first-year college students, she said.
“You don’t have a party for the kids to receive gifts and money, but it does help,” said Smith. “Both of my daughters received more than $1,000 at their parties. College kids might need microwaves, bedding and other things for their dorms.”