School districts across the nation faced a collective challenge as they decided how to handle graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020.
The solution offered by Creston Community High School was to pre-record the graduation in segments, having students schedule time to record them receiving their diploma with a limited number of friends and family in attendance. The process took over a week, and the graduation ceremony became viewable 2 p.m. Sunday, the time the ceremony was originally intended to take place.
The ceremony itself was structured similarly to a regular graduation, even beginning with a message from CCHS Principal Bill Messerole, who asks viewers at home to rise and remove their hats as senior vocalists performed the national anthem before school board president Galen Zumbach took the stage.
“Today marks one of the milestones that each of you will achieve in your lifetime,” said Zumbach. “It is an accomplishment that is worthy of this special event.”
Zumbach noted that the graduates were deprived of the traditional senior year and the experiences that accompany it, such as prom, sports and daily socialization.
“We find we took it for granted,” said Zumbach. “However, the shortened school year and the lost opportunities will most probably create a special bond among our graduates and make for fun class reunions. This COVID-19 pandemic will pass, and so your lives will resume. Graduation parties and gatherings can hopefully in the near future be held. And those friends who are important to you can be given the proper goodbyes.”
Superintendent Deron Stender then provided a message for the graduates, thanking everyone for being a part of the ceremony.
“The senior class that we honor today have been recognized for their scholastic accomplishments by receiving significant financial scholarships from many organizations and post-secondary institutions,” said Stender. “You are a very talented class and one that has learned how to persevere through uncertain times such as COVID-19.”
To continue the longstanding tradition of senior members performing a song during the ceremony, students individually recorded themselves performing “Where Does The Time Go” under direction of Jane Warner, CCHS vocal instructor.
Following the performance, the four valedictorians, Mackenzie Bodell, Brittany Linch, Eli Loudon and Hannah Walsh, took their turns at the podium to deliver their speeches to their fellow classmates. Individual school board members then honored students for their academic achievements before Messerole then retook the stage to thank those who assisted with creation of the ceremony and to hand out the diplomas.
While traditionally members of administration hand the student their diploma after they walk the stage, the virtual ceremony allowed students to have a parent or loved one be the one to do it instead, something which went over well with students.
“My dad was able to give me my diploma, which I thought was very personal and very thoughtful,” said Abbi Hood, student council president. “I also liked how it was an intimate thing with my family where I just got called and my family cheered and the counselors and Terri and Maggie were there, and Mr. Messerole.”
Hood continued to say the experience was one-of-a-kind, allowing for more focus on each individual.
“At a real graduation, your name would just get called and you would get up and receive your diploma,” said Hood. “By doing the virtual way, it just was able to focus more on that senior, and it made us feel very special.”
However, despite understanding the circumstances of the pandemic, the sting of not filling the auditorium for the traditional ceremony is still felt by some graduates.
“Through all of this there has been a lot of emotions amongst myself and many other students, faculty and families, which for me almost created a negative experience because we will never know the true definition of a real graduation ceremony,” said class president Ashton Wills.
Wills said it was eye-opening to realize that he may never see some of the kids he has gone to school with again and had hoped to walk across the stage with them.
“I’m sure we will all look back on life and wonder why it had to be like this, but one thing that I always tell myself is that everything in life happens for a reason,” said Wills.