High School graduation is a seminal event in the life of students. The culmination of more than a decade of hard work, this event allows students, their families, friends, educators, and more the opportunity to mark the close of a long chapter of their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened this celebration but it appears students locally will be able to enjoy a ceremony, albeit a little delayed and perhaps a little differently.
Marietta High School filmed their graduation ceremony on May 14th. Belpre High School principal Sam Piper detailed the method they devised for their graduating Eagles which was held earlier in May. Students were given time slots 5 minutes apart and allowed 6 guests. The students walked across the stage and were given their diploma. Piper said the ceremony began at 9:00 am and finished at 4:30 pm. Though this made for a long day, it was important for students to have their time in the spotlight.
Jane Smith, Interim Administrator of Wood County Christian School, said that their graduation originally scheduled for Friday, May 22 has been postponed to June 6th. The ceremony has also been moved to the Evergreen Bible Church, with preparations in place for social distancing. Immediate family only will be in attendance, but extended family and friends will be able to view the graduation via live-stream.
Wood County Schools Superintendent, Will Hosaflook, met online with student leaders from each of the three schools about the prospects. Students said unequivocally that what they wanted most was some sort of in-person graduation ceremony. Plans have been pushed back into June, but each of the high schools in the Wood County public school system have dates for graduation. The ceremonies are currently scheduled for June 25 (South), June 26 (PHS), and June 27 (Williamstown).
Ms. Betsy Patterson, Principal of Parkersburg South High School, said that there are contingency plans in place, but the hope is to have outdoor ceremonies at the Erickson All-Sports Complex. Should weather prevent this, a smaller scale ceremony will be held indoors with graduates receiving a certain number of tickets for family or friends. Plans were required to be approved by the State Board of Education in order to assure that proper precautions are being observed. The guidelines at the time of the ceremony will dictate specific efforts that may be observed to keep both students and those in attendance safe.
Parkersburg Catholic will observe a graduation mass on June 18th. The leadership has recommended that those in high-risk categories not attend and everyone attending must wear a face mask, with exemptions made for those speaking from safe distances. The ceremony will also be live-streamed, for those unable to be in attendance. Tickets will be issued until capacity is reached, with priority given to the graduates and their parents.
Graduate Aidan Roberts said, “Simply put, anything short of a completely traditional graduation is not ideal. Our school administration has the important responsibility of creating and executing a plan that allows for a safe, yet meaningful, graduation ceremony. I am very grateful for our small class size and our consequent ability to have an in-person graduation. Although I am slightly disappointed by the decision to have it indoors instead of outside, I am very thankful that it will not have to be online or pre-recorded. Regardless of the circumstances, I am looking forward to seeing my classmates and officially graduating high school!”
For the schools planning later graduations, special considerations needed to be made for the students who will not be in the area in June. One example of this are the students who are heading to the military. Housecalls Hospice put together a small ceremony for these students and their families in order to allow them to both have a graduation experience and enable them to leave on time to start the next chapter of their lives.
PHS graduate Colin Blosser was one of the students who participated. His sister Maddie who is a PHS incoming junior said, “It meant a lot. It was really special to see all the boys that were leaving early get to have this ceremony because they won’t be able to walk at graduation. It was really nice of them to do this for them since they are going to help fight in different areas to make our country safer.”