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COVID-19 breaks graduation traditions: Class of 2020 to get drive-by diplomas at most schools

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For most Wilson County high school seniors, graduating will involve a drive-thru or drive-in commencement.

While it might not be like any graduation day they’ve ever attended, ceremonies will certainly be similar to those held at high schools nationwide as districts attempt to celebrate seniors’ academic achievements while protecting attendees from COVID-19.

At Monday’s Wilson County Board of Education meeting, Associate Superintendent Cheryl Wilson explained the process by which Wilson County Schools arrived at its graduation plans.

Principals and administrators have had multiple meetings about what graduation should look like.

“We know it is going to have to look a little different,” Wilson said. “We gave three kinds of guidance to our principals. No. 1, that we would have some kind of graduation ceremony and celebration. No. 2, that we would have to follow the CDC guidelines. The third and final thing is that within the traditional schools and the early colleges, they had to be alike. The three traditional high schools had to come to a consensus about what it was going to look like and the two early colleges had to reach a consensus about what their graduation needed to look like.”

“It’s not the way I imagined it for the past 12-13 years, but at least the county is giving us a time to be recognized,” said Edwards Garcia, senior class president and student body president at Beddingfield High School. “That is better than nothing, so I kind of feel great about it, and at the same time I just wish we would have had that big ceremony like the other classes before us.”

Hunt High School senior Janiah Taylor said she’s pleased that the district created plans for graduation.

“It wouldn’t have been my first option, but I suppose you have got to be grateful because they could be not having it at all,” Taylor said. “I am glad that we are getting a little bit of recognition instead of nothing and just having the diploma mailed to us.”

EARLY COLLEGES

Each of Wilson County Schools’ early colleges will celebrate graduation in drive-in style on May 30.

Wilson Early College Academy will hold graduation at 9 a.m. in the Fike High parking lot.

The Wilson Academy of Applied Technology will hold graduation at 11 a.m. in the Beddingfield High parking lot.

Graduation for both early colleges will be handled the same.

Cars with graduates and guests will enter the parking lot. There will be preferential parking for cars containing graduates. An administrator will deliver the welcome. When a graduate’s name is called, the graduate will leave the car to walk up on the stage. Staff members will read accolades and honors as the graduate approaches the stage, then the graduate will walk across the stage to pick up his or her diploma. Then the graduate returns to his or her vehicle.

After all graduates have been called to walk across the stage and have returned to their cars, they will each stand beside their cars and turn their tassels together to end the ceremony.

TRADITIONAL HIGH SCHOOLS

Wilson County Schools’ three traditional high schools — Beddingfield, Fike and Hunt — will hold simultaneous drive-thru-style graduations on June 13.

Students will arrive at different times dependng on their last names. Cars will enter the parking lot and form a single-file line.

Each car will have one graduate and as many family members as that one vehicle can safely hold. The graduate will sit in the front passenger seat. The stage will be set up on campus at the edge of the parking lot. When a graduate’s car gets to the front of the stage, the car will stop, and the graduate will exit the vehicle and give the attending staff member a card with the student’s name on it.

The graduating senior will then step onto the stage and walk across, picking up his diploma cover off the table as his name is read. The graduate will then turn his tassel and pause for a picture with the administrator before stepping off the stage, returning to the vehicle and leaving the campus.

Bystanders will not be permitted to stand around the stage in order for the school district to comply with social distancing guidance.

WILSON PREPARATORY ACADEMY

Wilson Preparatory Academy, celebrating its second class of graduates in the school’s history, will hold a drive-in style graduation at 9 a.m. on June 6.

Cars with graduates and guests will enter the high school parking lot area and have assigned parking.

A large LED screen will feature the entire ceremony to provide a drive-in theater effect. Attendees will be able to listen to the program on an assigned radio station.

After the administration welcomes attendees and recites the Pledge of Allegiance, graduates will be called in alphabetical order. “Pomp and Circumstance” will be played for each graduate. Staff members will read accolades and honors as each graduate approaches the stage and walks across to pick up his or her diploma. After the graduate has received the diploma, the student will pause for a photo opportunity before returning to the car.

For more information, call the school at 252-294-2533.

GREENFIELD SCHOOL

Seniors at Greenfield School will graduate on May 28.

Participants will arrive in their cars between 5:30 and 6:15 p.m. to be directed to parking spots. Late guests will be sent to alternative parking spots across the street. To listen live, tune radios to 99.3 FM.

All graduation participants are asked to stay in their cars in accordance with social distancing guidance from the Wilson County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Families are encouraged to decorate their cars to celebrate. Also, participants will be asked to remain silent to maintain the ceremony’s reverence. Spectators will be given an opportunity to honk horns, wave and cheer for their seniors.

Inclement weather date is May 29 at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.greenfieldschool.org or call the school at 252-237-8046.

WILSON CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

The first graduation this spring will be a commencement for Wilson Christian Academy seniors at 9 a.m. Saturday.

“We plan to hold our baccalaureate service under the open-air tent located at Tabernacle Baptist Church (visible from Airport Boulevard) which birthed WCA, and, through these 59 years, we remain inseparably linked,” said Dwight Vanderboegh, lead administrator, in a statement. “With the current executive orders and, in addition, the ruling ... about corporate worship, we are able to conduct our baccalaureate service with a scaled-down graduation exercise.

“We will follow all guidelines of social distancing as requested. Only family members can attend, and we have limited the amount of those family members for each of our 24 graduates. With our being connected in this way with our church, we will honor our Savior and focus on the command to follow God in the good and bad of life.”

For more information, call the school at 252-237-8064.

COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN SCHOOL

Roy Henderson, head of school at Community Christian School, said graduation for his seniors has not been set yet.

The school is shooting for a date in July based on availability and allowances.

“Although the school year is officially over, we plan on celebrating with our seniors in July,” Henderson said. “This, of course, is contingent on the phases that the governor allows in regards to gatherings. It is the desire of our school’s board and our staff that we send our graduates off with the commencement ceremony they deserve and have looked forward to since starting high school.

“At this time, we are going to have to move our ceremony outside,” Henderson said. “We are currently looking at those options as things are continually changing. Regardless of the date or place, we will ensure that our students’ graduation is one that they will remember forever.”

For more information, call the school at 252-399-1376.

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