Chesterfield students use online gaming passion to host virtual graduation

Minecraft graduation eases COVID-19 stress


Trey Powers and his friends host a Minecraft graduation.

On Monday, March 23, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam delivered the dreaded and anticipated announcement that all schools were to remain closed for the remainder of the academic year, in light of the danger facing the United States during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For many Midlothian High School students, this news brought a whirlwind of emotions, including sadness at the inability to complete the rest of the year with the classmates, friends, and teachers, with whom they have bonded since September. However, for seniors, this shocking decision impacted them on a completely different level; these students lost their opportunity to complete their final year of high school, meaning no goodbyes to their beloved classmates and teachers and no final prom, spirit week, or pep rally to commemorate their high school experience. Most importantly for seniors, due to the recent lock down announcement from the governor, which ends after graduation is set to occur, this closing most likely means no graduation, which many students have looked forward to since first walking the halls of Midlothian High. (CCPS continues to look into ways to hold graduations, if not in June, perhaps in early August.)

Despite the current scare facing the world today and the sadness resulting from the closing of schools, a group of Chesterfield County students decided to gather their strengths to help combat these issues. Midlo senior Trey Powers and his friends prepared and launched a Minecraft graduation ceremony, thus allowing any senior in Chesterfield County to experience a graduation. For this group of friends, who headed to different high schools after attending Tomahawk Creek Middle School, Minecraft served as a connection, a way to maintain contact. Due to the importance of this gaming service in their lives, they decided it would serve as the perfect location for the graduation. Powers shared that his “heart sank as [Governor] Ralph Northam announced that all school facilities were to shut down for the rest of the school year,” and while attempting to cheer him up, a friend joked about creating an online gaming graduation, yet Powers and his friends immediately saw this idea as “exactly what [they] all needed to relieve the stress of the current situation.” After this enlightenment, this group of buddies continued full steam ahead to bring their creative idea to fruition.

A group of students, including Midlo’s Zach Westhaver, Michael Iannitto, Ian Karst, Sebastian West, Cash Allen, and Sam Buettner, built the arena for the graduation to take place. They began in a field on the server, using various building blocks to construct a seating area and stage featuring Midlo’s famous blue and gold “M” mark, along with lighting to highlight the students and a firework display to celebrate once all the characters have walked across the stage. A gaming communication app called Discord allowed the students to communicate during the building and the graduation. This graduation not only entertained the friends during quarantine, but it also gained the attention of news websites across Virginia, including the Richmond Times Dispatch and the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

After the building took place, Powers decided to expand this event beyond his group of friends, promoting the graduation on Snapchat and inviting others to come and watch as their friends graduated or graduate themselves. Powers comments, “I clearly wasn’t the only one struggling with this issue, so why not invite others to help them forget their worries as well?” In the end, roughly 20 seniors participated in the graduation, bringing Powers and his friends a great deal of pride, as they felt their hobby had turned into something that brought others in Midlothian and across the county some joy in light of the COVID-19 fear. Powers summarizes the event, sharing, “Though short and sweet, the sense of pride I felt in my friends and for myself was immense. Everyone was laughing and joking, sharing fond memories of their experiences in high school. I truly am thankful for my friends being a reason to smile in these stressful times.”