The Class of 2020 is missing out on so much due to the coronavirus pandemic. They’ll likely forever be known as the class that was quarantined. Seniors were not scheduled to graduate until the end of May and it’s still unknown what will be allowed as far as gatherings are concerned, but it’s unlikely an event with hundreds or thousands of people in attendance will be allowed or is even safe.
Seniors have missed out on their prom and many other historic events normally observed during their senior year. The thought of simply mailing diplomas to graduates seems implacable in light of the conventional rite of passage of walking across the stage to be handed a diploma.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has consulted with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and the Governor’s Office and provided guidance to school administrators. They’ve left decisions about graduation ceremonies at the discretion of local school boards. Both Lincoln County Schools and Lincoln Charter Schools have been consulting with seniors and their families on what they want to see in terms of a graduation ceremony for weeks now.
Several different types of unconventional ceremonies were suggested by DPI such as a drive-in event where families may arrive and remain seated in cars. This could be done at movie drive-ins, large parking lots, or at other similar venues. Graduates could exit their cars and collect their diplomas. Large projected screens and sound equipment may be required.
A drive-through ceremony would be similar. The graduate would drive-through and collect their diploma. An individualized ceremony could be held where students to arrive in predetermined and specifically timed waves to enter the building and collect their diplomas. This could be difficult to schedule given no more than 10 individuals are permitted to gather. A hybrid/video ceremony could be held using one of the above strategies. Video is spliced and the entire graduation is provided on-demand or aired at a predetermined time.
Lincoln Charter School was originally going to have a scheduled ceremony that would be recorded on video, but those plans were scrapped in favor of a form of drive-in/drive-through ceremony the specifics of which have yet to be announced, Lincoln Charter Schools chief administrator Jonathan Bryant.
“We had a lot of people who were upset with the video idea, for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “I don’t blame them because so many things have been taken away from seniors. I think it was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back on COVID-19. How can you blame them? Obviously, what we’re planning isn’t the traditional thing. We were in the later stages of hiring a professional video company, but I think we’re going to go to a live ceremony using whatever options are safe.”
At the Lincoln County Schools committee meeting held Tuesday night, the board discussed the options offered to them by DPI.
“I feel like our students deserve the opportunity to walk on the stage and their parents deserve to see that,” board chair Cathy Davis said. “I’m in favor of postponing it until we can actually have some sort of graduation.”
Joan Avery agreed, but said that she didn’t want to see the date postponed beyond August 1. There’s some concern, which assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Dr. Heath Belcher brought up about students not being able to attend a postponed ceremony and that he knew of some districts that were doing that.
“I have a senior this year and I’ve spoken to him and a lot of his friends and their families,” board member D. Todd Wulfhorst said. “I think you shouldn’t delay and figure out how to do a graduation on May 29 and 30. If you don’t, they’re not going to come. They really want commencement exercises that they’ve had for generations. I think we’re basing this analysis based on today. Who’s to say what that’s going to be like the end of May.”
Heather Rhyne expressed concern about delaying the ceremony and suggesting allowing the schools to decide which of the alternative options offered by DPI they wanted to do.
“I feel like we need to give these students a graduation and give them closure,” she said. “We need to let these students focus on their futures.”
The final decision will be announced at the May 12 board of education meeting.