Graduates honored in a pandemic

One of the many creative ways school districts are recognized graduates of the Class of 2020 includes displaying their names and pictures on billboards 

By Charlotte Beard

Childhood for 2020 high school graduates began with societal changes in norms due to the events of 9/11 and their recent commencement has undergone changes due to COVID-19. It is only normal for these graduates to experience unusual accolades for their educational accomplishment. 

Beginning May 18, high school graduates from nine districts were honored with their images in cap and gown on digital billboards courtesy of DDI Media throughout St. Louis County. Those displays will continue through June 8.

DDI Media states that under normal circumstances the cost for digital displays range approximately $800 to $1,200 per week depending on the location of the advertisement. According to LaTricia Clark, a Normandy Schools Collaborative (NSC) Instructional Coach, an estimated 5,000 students or more are displayed on the billboards. The students represent the following school districts: Normandy, Ritenour, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, Hazelwood, Jennings, University City, Ferguson-Florissant, Riverview Gardens and St. Louis Public Schools. 

The idea to have the students displayed on billboards in lieu of not being able to walk across the stage to receive a diploma originated with Clark’s endeavor to honor the graduating seniors at Normandy High School. Clark states that she decided to use her connection with DDI Media’s Media Sales Manager to see what she could accomplish.

“I reached out to Matt Gamache to see if they would be willing to donate billboard space to a school or two in the region,” Clark explained. “We scaled the project; we didn’t intend for it to be as large as it is, but I’m glad we were able to serve these districts and collaborate. It was a great labor of love.”

When Gamache was asked what motivated him and DDI Media to get involved in the collaboration, he stated, “It is unfortunate what all these seniors, across the country, are missing out on and it’s a shame. So, when LaTricia reached out, I thought it would be a great way for DDI Media to help make their day a little better. Not everyone gets to say they were on a billboard. We also know that a number of the schools aren’t funded particularly well for some of the extras, so we thought we would help.”

Clark collaborated with the school districts to collect graduate names and photos and Teri Green, NSC Director of IT, to program the information needed by DDI Media to utilize for their system.

The digital billboards can be found at I-70 near the Airport Exit (eastbound), I-170 and St. Charles Rock Road (southbound), I-44 and Big Bend (westbound), I-270 and McDonnell Blvd (facing west), and I-270 and McDonnell Blvd (facing east). Though the displays can be found in these five locations, not all locations display each districts’ graduates.

“The locations are specific to the high school,” stated Clark. “We wanted the billboards to be in their community – as close as we could get them to their high school so that the parents, the children, and staff of those respective school districts (would) be able to see and enjoy their student.” 

Clark shared that on social media students have been seen sharing the images among themselves and with others.

“It’s something (to see) them happy and excited about (in the midst) of all the changes that the schools are having to go through, especially with the graduations at this time,” stated Clark.

Marcus C. Robinson, Normandy Superintendent of Schools states, “This is a great example of how the business community can come alongside our schools to support students. As we look to move our district to the next level, we look forward to collaborating with our neighboring districts and business partners to support student success.”

Clark shared, “Anything that we can do collectively as a community to keep the celebration going or the accolades that the seniors have accomplished, I think is wonderful.”

CUTLINE: Photo courtesy Normady Schools Collaborative Normandy High School Senior Miyaa Hill is one of several local members of the Class of 2020 featured on area DDI Media billboards. DDI donated the billboard space to help recognize local graduating seniors in nine school districts.