DecoPac is one of the world’s largest suppliers of cake decorations to professional cake decorators and bakeries in the world. With high school graduations upcoming, this would typically mean more graduation decorations for celebration cakes. Unfortunately, there may be fewer graduation cakes this year, as large celebrations are being kept to a minimum in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For most of the 3.7 million students in the Class of 2020, the typical end-of-year traditions have been wiped away by the coronavirus, including festive parties. To help parents bring some joy back to students feeling the loss of these events, DecoPac enlisted the aid of Harvard health expert Ellen O’Donnell.

“Your senior year, and especially spring semester, is a combination of celebration and mourning. We see cliques breaking down and classmates bonding as they reminisce and start preparing themselves to launch into adulthood,” says O’Donnell, a pediatric psychologist at Mass General Hospital for Children, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, and author of the parenting book, Bless This Mess.

“And now instead, the anticipated ‘senior slack’ is spent sheltering at home. We’re asking teens to behave as if they are depressed. I’m hearing from teens who are questioning whether they want to go to college in the fall. There’s a lack of structure. Kids are retreating to their bedrooms. And they can get stuck, lose their momentum, and for some, lapse into an unhealthy limbo. Most importantly, don’t let this milestone slip by unrecognized; it’s especially crucial for those students who struggled in high school.”

O’Donnell offers the following tips for parents:

  • “Find a way to replicate the emotional part of commencement. Receiving your diploma on stage and the firm handshake from the dean or principal is a significant moment of recognition – you did it! Parents—let your students hear “congratulations” from you and others who serve as role models.”
  • “Graduation ceremonies and spring banquets allow parents to see their kids shine and give their students closure. Senior skip day, corny speeches, a formal outfit, walking the stage, shout outs from friends, and posing for millions of photos for parents. All are absent this year. Parents can recreate the emotions with a mix of new and old rituals. Go ahead and wake them up early on graduation day and make noise, load up your front lawn with signs, and shout out your windows. Order a cake, tie up balloons and dress up for a party, whether small or virtual. Create an emotional experience they will remember.”
  • “Tie in human connection while social distancing. I fully support the physical restrictions in place, but we need to balance our teens’ physical health with their mental and spiritual health. The car parades students have been doing for one another, decorating cars, honking horns, and celebrating at a distance hold a lot of meaning. It brings a palpable energy that virtual interaction can’t capture. I think there should be a car parade for everyone! A table at the end of the driveway with a box to collect cards and a tray of cupcakes to go gives everyone a feeling of celebration.”

O’Donnell says that we have to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and not dismiss that. Any celebration can be made significant with the right ideas. Meanwhile, John Gardner, DecoPac vice president of sales, gives his advice to the graduating class of 2020.

“We want to congratulate the graduating class of 2020,” says Gardner. “We know that you will emerge stronger and with an appreciation for our global connectedness as you go forth into the world, young adults with wisdom beyond your years. And don’t forget the wise words of Julia Child – ‘a party without a cake is just a meeting.’”