DE GRAFF — While COVID-19 has caused schools to remain closed through the end of the 2019-20 academic year and the cancellations of spring sports, school plays, proms and other activities, even the pandemic can’t keep Riverside Local School’s Class of 2020 from walking at graduation.
“The decision at first, because it’s different, was negative,” Riverside Superintendent Scott Mann said. “Now that we’ve talked to most of those people in person, they kind of understand that we’re keeping it as similar as we possibly can. We love our seniors, and we’re not changing anything out of spite. We’re just doing as much as we can to be able to provide them with as good of an experience as we can.”
The changes made to commencement, scheduled for Friday, May 15, were in an effort to maintain social distancing. Each graduating senior will be allowed two vehicles for their family to attend the ceremony and will report to the De Graff Park at a designated time between 5:30 and 6 p.m. Vehicles will proceed to the school’s parking lot at 6:30 p.m.
When graduates’ names are called to receive their diplomas, they will exit their vehicle one at a time and walk up to a staging area to receive their diplomas, which will be placed on a podium. Graduates and their families are encouraged to decorate their vehicles for a parade that will follow the ceremony through De Graff and Quincy and will be led by the Logan County Sheriff’s Office.
Mann said that the reason for keeping commencement on the original date was because of an email from the Ohio Department of Education asking schools to keep their commencement ceremonies on or as close to their original date. The goal is to provide some consistency in a time when routines and traditions are changing day-to-day.
“There are kids who are wanting to enter the workforce, and they need the diploma to enter the workforce. If we pushed back graduation, they would not have that opportunity. There are a lot of people that are hiring right now, and even some that want to join the military, and they need that process,” Mann said. “We’re going to keep everything as normal as we possibly can.”
If students or their families are not comfortable attending the ceremony and walking, they have the option to stay home. The school will make arrangements to either hand-deliver or mail a student’s diploma to their home.
“I’m sure there are going to be many types and varities of different graduations,” Mann said. “Anywhere from virtual, to bringing one kid into the gym at a time. I think I could see a wide range of different graduations.”
Riverside Local School’s administration discussed the situation and its options in-depth before deciding to do the parking lot ceremony, which ultimately was chosen because it helped enforce social distancing and kept a limit on the amount of people in attendance.
“One of the adjustments we made, we were only going to let one car come in at first. After talking to some people we realized some have split families, some have extended families that they want to be able to come. So we’re allowing two cars to come for each graduate now,” Mann said.
Despite the fact that Riverside Local Schools is moving forward with its original date of commencement and an updated plan for the ceremony, Mann acknowledged that things could change depending on decisions made in the coming weeks by Gov. Mike DeWine.
“This is our plan moving forward with the caveat that we have no idea what could possibly be brought down by the governor. Things could change when they hear about graduations or something like that. They may tell us that it’s not doable, but we’re going to keep this plan as long as we can, and we plan on moving forward with it,” Mann said.
Mann highlighted that graduating seniors, both at Riverside and other schools around the country, were born when 9/11 happened and are now graduating during a pandemic.
“We miss them, we’re praying for them, and we love them,” Mann said. “It’s a 13 year journey that culminates with graduation, and we want to give them as much of a true experience as we can because they deserve it. They deserve a lot more than what they’re getting. It’s just a very sad situation for them.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.