Berkeley High graduation will be held in person this year. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the ceremony will be divided into smaller graduations and staggered over three days. File photo: Mark Coplan

Berkeley’s high school seniors will graduate in person next month, walking across an outdoor stage.

The graduation offers the promise of closure for a senior class that has spent much of the last year learning online and coping with uncertainty.

The usual mammoth graduation will be split into three days, each containing a series of graduations for the small schools and affinity groups. The graduations will be held from June 4 to June 6 at Berkeley High’s Jacket Stadium.

The ceremonies will contain most of the usual traditions: a procession, walking across the stage, moving the tassel from right to left.

Each graduation will last an hour and a half, with two hours in between to allow cleaning. To minimize the spread of COVID-19 and comply with California Department of Public Health guidelines around large events, each student will only be allowed to invite four guests. Families will be asked to social distance and no one from out of state will be permitted at the ceremonies.

The ceremonies will be live-streamed and recorded for families that are not able to attend or opt to remain at home. Graduation ceremonies will also be held in person from June 2 to June 4 at the schools for fifth and eighth graders, with the exception of one elementary school, which will hold its graduation at a nearby park.

Isabella Ingersoll, a senior at Berkeley High, had not dared to get her hopes up about an in-person graduation. She had dreamed up an intimate ceremony in a backyard, where vaccinated grandparents could watch her and her best friends give speeches on a fake stage to close out her senior year.

Now that graduation is in person, Ingersoll is grateful for the chance to put a formal bookend on her high school career.

“If I get to walk across the stage and receive a diploma, I think that will feel way more real and will give me more closure than having nothing in person,” Ingersoll said. Though she said she still might do a backyard ceremony.

She said she is disappointed that she won’t be able to graduate with her best friends, who are in a different small school than her.

Ahniesty Fite, a senior who is excited to graduate with her classmates, knows how much it will mean to her family to see her don a cap and gown. “This is something my mom, dad, and grandma are going to always remember,” Fite said. Fite will be attending two graduations: a ceremony with the Academy of Medicine and Public Service and the Celebration of Black Excellence.

Berkeley High graduation schedule

Friday, June 4
Arts and Humanities Academy: 9-10:30 a.m.
Communications Arts & Sciences: 12:30-2 p.m.
Asian Pacific Islander: 4-6:30 p.m.
Celebration of Black Excellence: 7:30-9 p.m.

Saturday, June 5
Academic Choice, last names A-L: 9-10:30 p.m.
Academic Choice, last names M-Z: 12:30-2 p.m.
Latinx: 4-5:30 p.m.
Academy of Medicine and Public Services: 7:30-9 p.m.

Sunday, June 6
Berkeley International High School: 9-10:30 a.m.
Berkeley Independent Study, Berkeley Technology Academy, R.I.S.E.: 12:30-2 p.m.
Multilingual program: 4-5 p.m.
Bridge: 7-8:30 p.m.

Nearby cities like Oakland and San Francisco will also host in person graduations.

On Wednesday, the school board approved spending $80,000 from federal COVID-relief funds to supplement the normal budget for graduation.

Stephens said the additional money will go toward staff working overtime and other expenses, such as live-streaming technology, overnight security, sound equipment, and stage rentals.

The school board has also approved spending COVID-relief money on special education assessments this summer and on technology replacement. About $13 million of the $16 million the district expects to receive has yet to be allocated.

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...