With the disappointment felt by last year’s high school seniors in mind, Fulton County school districts are determined to bring some sense of normalcy to this month’s graduation ceremonies despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Local ceremonies that were severely modified in 2020 to accommodate the uncertainty of COVID-19 will proceed in a more normal fashion this year, but will still be within the virus’s grip.
Last year, Fayette High School limited graduates and their families to participate in individual, abbreviated recognition ceremonies. The segments were recorded and spliced together to create a full ceremony tape released on graduation day. The graduates also paraded within the village to be honored by residents.
Superintendent Angela Belcher said this year’s graduation will be a more traditional celebration held in the high school gymnasium, but following the state’s continued mandate of masks and a 25% capacity rate. To accommodate more people, it will be live-streamed on the school district’s YouTube channel.
“We are trying to implement as many traditional events as we can under the current guidelines,” Belcher said. “I anticipate our families being appreciative that we are planning a traditional ceremony this year, even with the limited capacity (and) guests.”
She said, after last year’s limitations, “I am thrilled our students are able to participate in a traditional graduation ceremony, on campus. They have earned it.”
The senior class has been supportive and understanding of the continued restrictions. “They’re extremely positive and grateful for the amount of activities, events, and trips we have been able to include this year…(O)ur seniors are looking forward to a traditional graduation ceremony,” Belcher said.
Delta High School will continue a tradition of holding commencement ceremonies outdoors at Panther Stadium but with continued COVID-19 restrictions in place. The May 27 graduation will live-stream on the NFHS Network website.
And while state COVID-19 protocols remain in place, “I would argue that if our students have attended school in-person for 180 days, we can handle having an in-person graduation ceremony for our graduating seniors,” Superintendent Ted Haselman said. “While following protocols are extremely important, so is having some normalcy.”
He added, “All students have handled this school year wonderfully. They have done everything we have asked them to do. The seniors deserve a graduation ceremony that is as normal as we can possibly provide.”
Evergreen High School plans a traditional graduation ceremony in the high school gymnasium but with limited attendance and all COVID-19 restrictions in place. The school district also will live-stream the event on its YouTube channel.
”Our goal this year was to have as many in-person events as possible,” Superintendent Eric Smola said. “Graduation is the culmination of a student’s educational career in the district and we want that experience to be in person and shared with family members and classmates.”
Because the school district has shown success in continuing athletics and other events despite Ohio Department of Health (ODH) guidelines, “We are confident our commencement ceremony will be safe and a success,” he said. “Our seniors have been great, and appreciate the opportunity to be in-person and enjoy the many traditions the district has to offer.”
Held last year in a parking lot, with graduates’ families confined to their vehicles and a strict adherence to social distancing and masking among seniors and district administrators, Wauseon High School experienced an almost surreal commencement in 2020.
Superintendent Troy Armstrong said this year the honors will be distributed in a more traditional indoor format in the high school gymnasium, but with restrictions in place. As with other school districts, the ceremony will be live-streamed on YouTube. It will also be broadcast at later dates on 26 Northwest Ohio WNHO and on the school district’s INTV service.
Armstrong said the success of indoor events that were forced this school year to implement coronavirus restrictions led to an indoor graduation. “A traditional setting is supported by our seniors and we are happy to be able to provide a more traditional commencement,” he said.
Archbold High School seniors will also be awarded an in-person gym commencement, with additional seating in the building’s auditorium due to capacity restrictions, and live-streaming on YouTube.
“I believe that our students, families, and staff are elated to be able to offer a traditional graduation for the Class of 2021,” Superintendent Jayson Selgo said. “Our seniors, and all students, have been tremendous this year. Without their support and commitment to the procedures put in place, this year could have gone a lot different.”
Last year’s drive-up graduation at Swanton High School allowed for only private honors for graduates. An in-person ceremony at Swanton High School gymnasium this year will adapt to capacity limits set forth by the ODH, and live-streaming it into the adjoining auditorium is in the works to allow for more attendees. The school district also hopes to broadcast the event on YouTube.
“Our goal all year has been to return to normal as much as possible,” Superintendent Chris Lake said. “We have hosted numerous athletic contests, plays, concerts, and prom this year while still following the safety guidelines. It only makes sense that we would work to host a normal, in-person graduation.”
Lake said the school district has heard from more than enough parents and seniors to know that a traditional graduation ceremony is needed.
“While the ceremony this year will not be exactly like it was prior to COVID, the fact that we are going to host an event in our gym with a live audience is great progress,” he said…”While the event last year was very successful, it feels like a much bigger win to be back to something that is very close to normal.”
Last school year the senior class lost a quarter of its school year to the virus, missing out on many events, Lake noted. “This year’s senior class has been able to enjoy nearly every single traditional senior year moment, albeit with some social distancing and masks,” he said. “No matter how you slice it, the 2020-21 school year has been a success for Swanton and every school in Fulton County.”
Swanton High School senior Jasmin Kenzie said she’s happy the graduates will sit together during the commencement, and that a lot of the ceremony’s traditions will likely be maintained.
“No part of me still thought (the pandemic) was going to be going on, but as we got closer to the date our expectations kind of set in that we weren’t going to get the normal ceremony,” Kenzie said. “This is under nobody’s control. We’re just grateful we’re going to be doing something.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.