For seniors in Scott County, graduation ceremonies this weekend will look much different than any other year.
There will be no more standing room only crowds due to Covid-19 precautions, but school administrators are doing everything they can to make sure that this year’s graduating class has a commencement ceremony that they will never forget.
Just a few weeks ago, many seniors and their families were concerned that local graduations would not be able to take place. But on April 23, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee released several state guidelines to help local education institutions have a safe and successful graduation for the class of 2020.
As schools began to plan senior activities, Lee encouraged them to collaborate with county health departments with questions related to the health and safety of hosting graduation ceremonies. He also had several suggestions of what a graduation ceremony could look like, while still promoting social distancing. Some of the ideas were to hold the ceremonies in football stadiums or outside arenas, to hold a drive-in style ceremony, and to increase the number of ceremonies while limiting guests in attendance. Both local school systems have planned their commencement exercises with strict protocol that aligns with the state’s guidelines.
Oneida High School
Dr. Jeanny Phillips, the director of schools for the Oneida Special School District, has released two different plans for the school’s graduation ceremonies that are set to take place this Saturday. Plan A would allow for all graduating seniors to participate in one ceremony held outside at Jim May Stadium beginning at 12 p.m. Each senior will be allowed six guests. Each guest will only be allowed to enter the stadium with a ticket given to them by their senior, including children of all ages. The guests will be escorted to an assigned seat and expected to remain there throughout the ceremony.
In the event of rain, OHS has planned a split graduation to be held inside the OHS gymnasium. Two seperate graduation ceremonies would be held, one beginning at 10 a.m. and the other beginning at 1 p.m. Students would attend their ceremony based on where their last name falls in the alphabet. Seniors with the name Alcorn-McCartt would take part in the morning event, while seniors with the last name McGhee-Yancey would take part in the afternoon event. For the inside graduation, only four ticket holders will be allowed in per senior due to limited space. The guests will be escorted to an area that has been reserved for them.
Although both scenarios are not ideal, they are one way that the Oneida Special School District is hoping to encourage their seniors.
“I would like to ask every person that comes in contact with our seniors to encourage them and to be positive about the situation. Being negative about something that cannot be changed will not help anything,” Dr. Phillips said. “It is important that during this time, we show our seniors that we care and celebrate their accomplishments.”
Final plans for Oneida’s ceremony will be announced on Thursday. However, Dr. Phillips is looking forward to the opportunity to get to celebrate our community’s future leaders, even if it will be different than previous years.
“The one thing that I have personally explained to every senior in my entire district is that the Class of 2020 is a very unique class that has faced distinct challenges and will never be forgotten”, Dr. Phillips said. “For us as a district this holds true and I would like to ask that the entire community celebrate these students.”
Scott High School
Scott High School principal Melissa Rector announced on Monday evening that the school will honor their seniors by holding two indoor graduation ceremonies on Friday evening, May 22. The first ceremony will be held at 4:00 p.m., and the second will be held at 6:30 p.m. All graduates will attend both ceremonies, but guests will rotate. This will give students the opportunity to all be together. It will also provide guests with the ability to see all graduates, many of whom may be family members. Rector has also promised a little “something special” for each of the ceremonies.
In correlation with the state’s guidelines to promote social distincancing, each student will be given four tickets to hand out for their designated ceremony. Guests are required to show their ticket to enter the building. Once they enter, they will be seated in assigned areas six feet apart. Several safety measures have been put into place for graduates and their guests. All will be required to wear masks, temperature checks will be done at the door, and ushers will be making sure that everyone maintains their distance.
“Special thanks to our local and regional Health Departments for walking us through health and safety guidelines”, Rector said. “Also, thank you to Tennier Industries for providing masks in school colors for all of our graduates and workers. We are blessed in our community to have groups who will pull together for kids and families.”
Although these circumstances are not something that any graduating senior would have wanted, Rector feels that it may be part of a plan that is far greater than any of them may realize.
“I know many of these seniors feel cheated of their final experiences, and that does make me sad,” Rector said. “However, I am old enough to know that nothing happens by chance. When a person is given significant adversity, that means they are being prepared for greatness. This didn’t just happen to the Class of 2020 randomly. This pandemic will be a part of their lives that will shape them into better problem solvers, better citizens, and better adults.”