WORTON — After 12 years of hard work — if not more counting kindergarten and pre-school — seniors should be walking across the stage in May and June celebrating with friends, family and the teachers that helped them negotiate their path to graduation.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, graduation will look a little different from years’ past commencements though staff at Kent County High School have made every effort to retain the normal routine of graduation.
Starting this week, staff at the high school will be filming seniors as they walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. Seniors may bring two guests with them to observe and take pictures. Those videos of each graduating senior will be compiled into a virtual graduation DVD.
On the day graduation was meant to take place, Saturday, May 30, students are invited to drive on to campus for a drive-in movie style presentation starting at 8 p.m. of all the senior’s walks across the stage.
The video will be live streamed on Facebook and WKHS 90.5 will broadcast during the presentation.
There are two cars allowed per senior at the presentation, with campus Wifi boosted so people can opt to view the ceremony on a personal device.
While student member of the Kent County Board of Education Annie Squire Southworth said in a telephone interview Wednesday, May 13 that she is disappointed she will not be able to celebrate her peers’ achievements during an in-person graduation, the priority should be “stopping the spread of the virus and doing everything we can to protect the most vulnerable people among us as well as those on the front line.”
“Of course there will be disappointment in not having celebratory senior events that we’ve been looking forward to, including the in-person graduation with family and friends, but really I think that our administrators, faculty and staff and everyone at school are doing the best they can to honor the Class of 2020,” Southworth said. “I’m really grateful that the school I attend is making an effort to celebrate the class.”
Kent County High School Principal Dale Kevin Brown said staff looked at what other schools are doing across the nation to celebrate seniors before crafting a virtual graduation that retained elements of the typical ceremony while maintaining social distancing recommendations. Plans for a virtual graduation, he said, started in late March despite the physical school buildings not being officially closed through the rest of the academic year until May.
“We put a lot of time, energy and thought — most importantly thought — into this,” Brown said in a telephone interview May 12.
He said staff made sure they are able to honor their seniors while also being cognizant of students’ health and taking precautions to protect family members who want to share in the celebrations.
“This is not going to be a traditional graduation with the restrictions we have on us. But, at this time, we were very pleased with our finished product,” Brown said. “It’s always important to celebrate the accomplishments of our children. One of the things I’ve said historically is children are our most valuable resource and they’ve worked very hard from pre-k or kindergarten through 12th grade and their efforts should be recognized.”
While Brown said it saddens staff greatly that there cannot be a traditional graduation, they worked to ensure seniors will still have “great memories of being a Trojan.”
On May 12, Superintendent Karen Couch said she shares in the seniors’ and high school faculty’s disappointment that there will not be a typical graduation.
Noting staff cannot make up for the lost time seniors missed by being out of the physical school buildings, she said staff worked to ensure students still feel like their hard work is valued and honor their accomplishments.
Graduation is not the only event to celebrate seniors’ achievements that has moved to a virtual platform. A virtual senior prom will be held Saturday, May 16 followed by a Senior Awards Night, May 20 and a Senior FAN Night Vehicle Parade May 28.
The high school’s prom will be broadcasted from 7 to 9 p.m. on WKHS 90.5. During that time, the prom king and queen will be announced.
Brown said students had the opportunity to vote using a Google form for this year’s prom royalty.
Students are invited to email their prom photos to Barbara Jones at email@example.com to be featured on the school’s media sites.
Then at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20, the high school will livestream Senior Awards Night on its Facebook page.
Brown said local businesses are encouraged to send shoutouts to seniors as part of awards night. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with submissions.
The final event before graduation is a Senior FAN Night Vehicle Parade starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 28. Students and their families and friends are invited to decorate their vehicles and drive through the high school parking lot with faculty and staff cheering them on. Students are encouraged to show off their future plans for joining the workforce, military or college during the parade.
Vehicles will line up in Worton Park and enter the campus through the yellow gates in the back of the student parking lot. Cars will proceed through a coned course through both parking lots.
WKHS 90.5 will broadcast the event.
While Southworth said spring was always her favorite season at school because of events celebrating seniors, she said after the initial shock of the closures, she understands “what’s happening in the world and the (closures) make sense.”
Southworth said May in particular was a memorable month at Kent County High School because “there’s always stuff going on like every single week.”
As a lacrosse player too, she said losing her last season of her favorite sport on top of her last quarter of school was “disheartening,” though she added “compared to everything else, I’m almost lucky to just be OK.”
Southworth said she’s been in contact with her peers and they all seem to have a similar mindset with most saying they are happy to be able to celebrate, though at a distance.