Carmel Valley resident, The Academy of Our Lady of Peace head of school leads virtual graduation

Our Lady of Peace held a virtual graduation ceremony.

In the months before the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools across the country, staff at The Academy of Our Lady of Peace began mapping out the rest of the year.

“At some point we anticipate we’re going to have to go online and go virtual, let’s get ready,” said Dr. Lauren Lek, The Academy of Our Lady of Peace’s head of school and a Carmel Valley resident, recalling the initial staff discussions about distance learning.

It also became clear that the pandemic would force some unprecedented changes to the graduation ceremony for the 138-year-old all girls school, the oldest high school in San Diego by one month. School staff started mapping out a virtual ceremony, and enlisted a San Diego-based production company.

“What I went into it with was a vision of being able to see each girl have her moment, but within a community setting,” Lek said.

The Academy of Our Lady of Peace held its virtual commencement on Zoom at the end of May with live cutaways into the homes of the graduates, all wearing their caps and gowns with diplomas in hand, as their names were called.

About 5,000 friends, family members and past graduates saw the ceremony this year, an increase from the 2,000 in-person and online viewers it typically draws, Lek said.

“We all got to celebrate and do the fanfare, we all got to see each other’s chat messages,” she added. “It was incredible, it was truly one of the most special things.”

The ceremony included a speaker from the class of 1962 and another from the class of 1970. Lek said that the school “brought together our community in this new and unique way.”

“I think what allowed this graduation to feel so meaningful is everything that makes OLP so special,” she said. “The personal touch, the relationships, the sense of community, the sense of being known all was felt in that moment.”

The 166 students in The Academy of Our Lady of Peace’s class of 2020 earned more than $29 million in college scholarships, Lek said. Twenty percent of the graduates are the first in their families to pursue a college degree and 40% are planning on a STEM-related major.

“After all their success, you want the culmination to be equal to what they have achieved and I think we definitely were able to do that,” Lek said.