Franklin High School is livestreaming its graduation ceremony this year for the first time, bringing children of immigrants closer to their faraway loved ones.
Aminata Diouf, a senior who will graduate from Franklin High School Monday, can’t tell whether her memories of Senegal are genuine or just the merging of scenes from home videos. The Baltimore-born Seattleite says her relatives overseas are a blur of uncles and aunties, most of whom she hasn’t seen since she last lived in Senegal as a toddler.
As with many children of immigrants, separated from their extended (and sometimes immediate) families by obstacles like denied visas and expensive airfare, Diouf’s main way to stay in touch is through a screen. She has regular FaceTime sessions with her grandmother, for example, who shares her first name and passion for acting.
Her grandmother has been able to secure a visa to visit the U.S. twice. Her second trip, cut short by illness, was originally supposed to last until her granddaughter’s high school graduation on Monday. When her grandmother had to leave early, Diouf figured graduation would join the line of milestones in her life that her grandmother wouldn’t be able to experience — until she found out Franklin would be livestreaming its graduation ceremony this year.
“Considering that my grandmother can’t really read or write, I was really excited to know she could watch me graduate,” said Diouf.
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Jennifer Wiley, Franklin High School’s principal for the past 14 years, said she’s long wanted to livestream the ceremony. Sixty-one percent of Franklin students speak a language other than English at home, she said.
“Our ceremony is not accessible to a large portion of our families who are not stateside,” said Wiley. “As the world advances, and as Wi-Fi becomes more accessible globally, it’s a natural move.”
The school began notifying Diouf and other students last Monday about the livestream, which will be available via YouTube and on the school’s homepage.
At least a half-dozen more high schools around the state are doing something similar. This year, the Puyallup School District is livestreaming the ceremonies at all five of its high schools. Colleges, which have graduating classes in the thousands, have been doing it for years.
In the past, a lack of resources and adequate Wi-Fi at Memorial Stadium, where Franklin’s graduation is typically held, has stymied the school’s ability to grab live footage, according to Jeff Lam, Franklin’s assistant principal.
But this year, there are cheaper options for livestreaming equipment — which will be operated by students.
When Zamzam Meshalla, a graduating senior, relayed the news to her mother, who is in Ethiopia, her mother began to cry. The two haven’t seen each other since Meshalla moved to the U.S. in 2013 with her father and 12 siblings.
“She wanted me to go and get an education, and be a strong woman,” she said. Meshalla is Muslim, and said she faced religious discrimination at the schools she attended in Ethiopia. A third-grade teacher once tore Meshalla’s hijab off her head and used it to wipe off a whiteboard. Meshalla said she feels more comfortable at Franklin, where she now wears a veil over her lower face called a niqab.
Her mother tried but failed to get a visa in time for Meshalla’s graduation.
“My mom started praying and thanking the school when I told her,” said Meshalla.
There’s still some chance that technology won’t cooperate. Assistant Principal Lam said the school was testing the equipment and hotspots last week. And a couple of students weren’t sure if the Wi-Fi would be strong enough for their relatives to stream the feed.
If it all works out, though, Michelle Yee said it will be an opportunity for her parents, who immigrated from China and Vietnam, to show their families what they left home for.
“It’s their way of saying, ‘Look at my children’s success.’ ”