Dubai pupils will end their school days in style as in-person graduation ceremonies return for the first time in two years.
Thousands of teenagers across the emirate will don caps and gowns this month as they prepare to celebrate the occasion with families and classmates.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, pupils have largely had to bid farewell to teachers and fellow pupils in ceremonies held online.
Aisha Sabry, an Egyptian in Year 12 at Gems Dubai American Academy, is looking forward to her graduation on June 10 after a year disrupted by the pandemic.
"I'm very excited to be able to celebrate the accomplishment with my family, school and teachers," said Aisha.
Learning online has been tough, she said.
“During the year some people studied at home while others attended in-person classes," she said.
“After almost a 10-year journey, to have that final goodbye is meaningful.
“I have been in the school for so long and it has been a big part of me growing up."
Aisha will head to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in September to study biomedical sciences.
“I will be leaving on a good note,” she said.
Safety measures remain in place for graduation ceremonies
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai's education regulator, said ceremonies should be limited to 90 minutes.
Food will not be allowed but pupils can invite two family members to graduation events.
Ceremonies can be held at school or at external venues of sufficient size to allow for physical distancing.
School officials must record the names of people attending.
Graduates, guests and staff will be exempt from taking a PCR test if they have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
But those who have not been fully vaccinated must present a negative PCR test result obtained within 48 hours.
The school must have a plan for crowd management at the ceremony, and overcrowding must be avoided at all entrances and exits.
Physical contact such as shaking hands, hugging or kissing is not permitted.
Graduation 'a dream come true'
Alia Al Naboodah, 17, an Emirati pupil at American Academy of Girls, has studied at the school since the first grade.
The Year 12 pupil said she had witnessed many changes at the school, including the building being remodelled.
“I have grown up in this school and the feeling is that of a chapter closing," said Alia.
“My parents can watch me graduate and this is something I have been waiting for and dreaming about.
“In the past year everything has been online and there have been no events. I am really happy that I can have a graduation.”
University students enjoy memorable celebration
The pupil will be accompanied by her parents for her big day.
Kianah Murao, 18, a Japanese-Canadian pupil at Gems Dubai American Academy, was relieved to be granted the opportunity to share her big day with friends, family and teachers who helped her along the way.
Ms Murao has a dress picked out and will wear the school’s ceremonial gowns.
"This year has been unpredictable with Covid-19 and we are about to celebrate the hard work," said Ms Murao.
“Earlier, I was really upset that I would not be able to have a graduation. It was frustrating because we did not have control over the situation.
“This is a chance for me to see my friends and teachers one last time.”
'The biggest event of the year'
American Academy of Girls in Dubai will be organising their graduation at the Dubai Cultural Centre on June 24.
Lisa Johnson, principal at the school, said it would be a fairly traditional ceremony.
The class of 57 girls along with their parents and about 20 teachers would mark the occasion together.
On a separate day, the graduating class would walk in a parade across different section of the school with juniors clapping and waving their pompons in celebration.
“It’s the biggest event of the year," said Ms Johnson.
“This is the culmination of 14 years of education."
A graduation is an enormous event for the community and a milestone for parents that they can never get back, she said.
“Last year in the pandemic, we did the best we could.
"But there is something missing when you can’t see your child walk across the stage on the day of graduation."
In 2020, the school hosted a drive-through graduation ceremony.
Tammy Murphy, chief executive of Gems Dubai American Academy, said she had been holding out hope for months that the school would be able to hold an in-person graduation ceremony.
The school's graduation is scheduled for June 10.
She said she was happy to give the pupils and their families a traditional graduation.
The cohort of 262 graduates and their parents would be able to attend the event.