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Drumroll, please: Chicago announces a virtual graduation ceremony, and it will star Oprah


Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage during the 45th NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, California in 2014.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot will host a virtual graduation ceremony for high school seniors in mid-June featuring Oprah Winfrey as the commencement speaker.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the news in a TikTok video while wearing a cap and gown and dancing in “Madame Mayor” sneakers. 

“The times we are living in are historic and stunning, forcing us all to take a deep look at who we are as a people and our place in the world,” she said in a release. “No one knows this better than Oprah.”

A City Hall news release said the date and details would be forthcoming, but that the first ever citywide celebration of graduating high school seniors would feature student performances. Chicago Public Schools seniors and students from area Catholic and private schools will be invited to attend remotely.

Media executive and former talk show host Winfrey is one of the city’s most famous and widely admired former residents. 

With more than two dozen states announcing that students will not return to in-person schooling this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, education leaders have weighed what to do about graduation. Some have postponed ceremonies in hopes of hosting them later in person, while others have announced plans for drive-by graduations and virtual graduation ceremonies. 

“The meaning of graduation is more profound than a physical stage and nothing can detract from the beaming pride of a Chicago Public Schools parent when their student earns a diploma,” Chicago schools chief Janice Jackson said in the news release. “We know we can’t fully replace the special milestones lost during this unprecedented crisis, but our seniors deserve to be celebrated for their hard work and we look forward to coming together to honor our seniors during this special occasion.” 

City Hall said Thursday that a committee of educators from area high schools would sort out graduation details. 

Chicago serves as a special backdrop for Winfrey’s career. The Baltimore native was relatively unknown when she began a half-hour talk show called “A.M. Chicago” here in 1984. Two years later, she debuted “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” becoming the first black woman in America to host nationally syndicated talk show.

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