To say the end of the school year has been disrupted due to COVID-19 would be an understatement. It’s been particularly hard on the Class of 2020. There was some hope that graduation could be held in some semblance of normal, but gathering restrictions, even for outside events, are still too limited for traditional graduation ceremonies.

Lincoln County Schools administration, teachers and staff came together and, after taking requests from seniors into consideration, came to decisions on what to do for graduation. Each school is doing something a little bit different to make the experience as memorable as possible.

All seniors who attended Asbury Academy will take part in graduation at their home high schools, according to Principal Beth Bradley Penley.

“Since we are small, we are still able to personalize this very important milestone for our students,” she said. “We have been working closely with community partners to be able to offer an individualized celebration based on students' next phase in life. One of our graduates recently got an apartment and entered the workforce. His celebration will include items that will assist with workforce development and living assistance. Another graduate is planning on entering Gaston College. She’ll receive assistance with student fees. These are just a few examples of ways we were able to recognize their achievements within the guidelines of social distancing. We want the students to celebrate and recognize their accomplishments and recommit themselves as they continue to grow forward. This has been amazing year and an unprecedented time.”

East Lincoln High will conduct individualized staggered graduation ceremonies over two days by appointment times.  The ceremony will have a ticket allotment per graduating senior to allow for up to six or seven guests to witness the individual graduation for their senior.  

“If COIVD-19 has taught us one thing, it’s not to take anything for granted,” Principal Mary Beth Avery said. “We presumed that we would go to school and celebrate our seniors as usual. We presumed that life would go on as it always had in our lives. Through this pandemic, we have discovered what we are made of and who we want to become. We have learned to fight for what we believe in. In this unprecedented situation, each senior has been called to develop a greater sense of his or her own role as a world citizen. They cannot have a future without a past and they should relish the fact that their past is a good one, that East Lincoln indeed prepared them for their future.”

May 29 is the commencement date for ELHS and, Avery added, commencement means a new beginning. 

“All graduating seniors will be building a new chapter of their lives in the near future,” she said. “As they decide which doors to enter and which opportunities to seize, I would like them to keep this goal in the back of their minds – always be looking for that which can give passion to their lives.”

Avery also wants to remind this graduating class to exercise patience and understanding with themselves and others, maintain their friendships, and keep the faith that their future is theirs and they will flourish. Those at East Lincoln believe in them, support them and will always welcome them home.

Also holding a staggered graduation, Lincolnton High School’s principal, Preston Clarke said that the 2019-2020 school year was on autopilot as they began the month of March preparing to gear up for a steady descent towards graduation day. 

“Then the unexpected happened as our lives were stonewalled by a pandemic,” he said. “I know many students are saddened about how this situation has interrupted and halted their senior year. I'm sad as well because I won't get to see them all on campus as students anymore. Although this is an unfortunate situation it does present each of them with an opportunity to respond. I know that they won't be defined by these circumstances but by their resilient behavior.”

Clarke added that he used to believe that the experiences of happiness and joy were mutually exclusive from adversity, pain, struggle, and suffering. 

“Now I know that you cannot experience one without the other,” he said. “Happiness and joy can only be found amidst the pain and struggles of life. Happiness and joy are not destinations but are experienced along a continuous journey that cycles in and out of adversity, pain, struggle, and suffering. This is the isolated pathway to personal growth, getting better, achievement, and any real sense of accomplishment. Achievements and goals come and go. People who seek continuous improvement live for the journey and embrace the grind. This unfortunate and unprecedented situation is just another experience along each of our students’ journeys.”

North Lincoln High School will release a virtual graduation video on YouTube and social media at 7:30 p.m. on May 29.  This online graduation video will be compiled using spliced footage of graduates receiving diplomas, cap and gown photos, speeches and candid photos from events through the school year.

“As a high school principal, my heart breaks for our senior class as they miss out on the iconic moments of the last semester of high school,” Principal Chip Cathey said. “I’m also struggling with the situation as the father of a senior in this year's graduating class. Make no mistake about it, these kids are resilient, and they will do just fine moving beyond the impact of this pandemic on their senior year. I haven't heard any whining or complaining about it from them, but I just feel as a principal and a father that I need to give them every opportunity I can to celebrate their graduation from public school. Thankfully, we have a system of support for our students that includes parents, teachers, district leadership, and community members.  We are all committed to sending them off properly and giving them all of the experiences we can within the restrictions in place as a result of the Coronavirus.  This graduation and this class will be equally remembered.”

West Lincoln High School will have a drive-in ceremony in the student parking lot.

“When the students took their survey, they wanted to have as traditional a graduation as possible,” Principal Nathan McLean said. “I met with our school improvement team and we came up with this option. They’ll drive their cars up to the stage, get out of the vehicle and walk across the stage. We hope that everyone will come. We want to give the students closure but still staying within the guidelines of Gov. Cooper’s executive order.”

While Brian Clary is no longer principal of the school, he did spend most of the school year with this group of seniors. 

“I’ve known these kids since ninth grade,” he said. “I’m so sorry for the seniors. That last semester is pretty special. They missed prom, awards day, the senior picnic. They missed the tours of the elementary schools when the teachers hug and kiss on them. It’s a very strong and successful group, not only in academics but also in sports. These seniors won back to back wrestling state championships and had probably one of the best seasons in football. From what I’ve seen and heard, they’ve handled it pretty well, but again, I feel sorry for them.”

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