The COVID-19 pandemic has created lifestyle changes for all people but the adjustments may be more historic for members of the Class of 2020, who had been looking forward to many “last times” during their senior year – their last spring sport seasons, last prom and last day of school.
Seniors will still be able to experience some of these “lasts” or once-in-a-lifetime moments, although even these will be made historic by the accommodations to comply with mass gatherings and social distancing.
The Denison Community School District still plans to have a graduation ceremony on May 17 but it will be one student walking across the stage at a scheduled time, with family members watching from inside their vehicles.
Prom is still being planned, but for late June.
Denison Superintendent Mike Pardun said he tries to look for some optimistic aspects that have been brought about by the response to the pandemic, such as the increased use of online learning. He said changes like these may open doors to better serve students and families in the future, even in a blended approach with in-building and online learning.
What has been planned for the drive-up graduation on May 17 is a stage set up outdoors of the high school building near the front of the circle drive. Each graduate has an appointed time to get out of their vehicle (they cannot be the driver) to walk across the stage, receive a diploma and pause for a photo to be taken by the school. Family members will watch from their vehicle (with the windows up) in front of the stage. After the photo is taken, the graduate must return to the vehicle.
The presentation of the diploma will be videoed. If a student is among the top 10 percent of the class, that will be announced.
As a keepsake, the graduation ceremony will be compiled, with some elements built into after the fact, such as the senior speech, which will be delivered by the member of the Class of 2020 whose speech is selected among those submitted.
“In essence, the student will be able to walk across the stage and have that very important moment,” said Pardun.
The drive-up graduation plans could be modified by weather conditions and changes in guidance from health officials.
Pardun added that the district is still looking at a group graduation ceremony, currently scheduled for July 12. That ceremony would be dependent upon the risk of COVID-19 abating and guidance from the governor’s office that allows for some sort of graduation ceremony and celebration.
As for the individuals walking across the stage – about 180 of them – planned for May 17, Pardun said the school administration believes it is critical to honor the students on the scheduled graduation date.
“I feel so bad for the seniors,” Pardun added. “This was supposed to be their year for all the ‘lasts’ at Denison High School. The pandemic certainly changed that, and it is not fair to any of them.
“There isn’t anything more I can say. Emotions are all over the place, for me as well, and it’s OK to feel the way we do. We can only control so much,” he continued.
“I want them to know how proud I am of them and all they have accomplished. They have the power to make the most out of this unfortunate situation.
“As Monarchs, they are resilient, empathetic, and hard-working. They are truly special students who have forever left a positive mark on our district and community, and I am proud of each and every one of them.”