Coronavirus: High schools get creative with a variety of graduation ceremonies

Dayton area high schoolsare coming up with creative ways to have graduation ceremonies despite limits on large gatherings, with some celebrating on the internet, in the school parking lot, and others one-by-one for hours in the school auditorium.

One of the biggest factors in the decision is the size of the school. Tiny Newton High School in Miami County, with only about 50 in its senior class, brought everyone together at once for an outdoor graduation ceremony while keeping distance between families due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Beavercreek, with more than 600 graduates, is doing graduation one student at a time, nine hours a day for seven straight days this week. Students were scheduled at five-minute intervals (with a few breaks in the day), to walk across the auditorium stage, receive their diploma, take a few pictures with family, then make room for the next graduate.

“The class of 2020 will always be known as the class that had to do it differently,” Beavercreek Superintendent Paul Otten said in a speech as part of the graduation live-stream.

Most of the ceremonies still had speeches from valedictorians or senior class presidents, although, as Newton valedictorian Cameron Brown said to a busy parking lot, “I didn’t think I’d be speaking in front of a group of cars today.”

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West Carrollton’s videotaped graduation ceremony, posted May 21, included some of the standard features — speeches, recognition of high-ranking students and musical performances.

And while students naturally had disappointments, Principal Candice Haffner made sure to emphasize that many lessons learned this spring are worth remembering — tough times don’t last, but tough people do … it’s good to learn what sacrifice means … and it’s important to appreciate those who helped you.

Limited in-person events

Northmont, Miamisburg, Troy and others did a variation of Beavercreek’s approach, with families entering an auditorium one-by-one, limited to about a half-dozen people. In some schools, a principal or teacher handed the student their diploma, and in others, a family member did so.

It certainly was nothing like the event previous classes have had, especially without being able to share the moment with their friends. If there was any plus side, families could clap, cheer, whistle and go wild when their student’s name was announced, without worrying that the next student’s name would be drowned out.

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At Trotwood-Madison’s outdoor ceremony May 16, the first graduate received their diploma at 1:07 p.m. and the last at 6:42 pm, with some umbrellas and canopies needed in between.

At Stebbins’ indoor event, each set of parents would hurry down the auditorium aisle and get in position, so they could take 20 seconds of photos or video, as their graduate received their diploma from school officials and flipped their tassel on the stage.

Online-only graduations

Wayne High School in Huber Heights was one of several to post a virtual graduation ceremony on YouTube or the school website. Principal Jeff Berk and several students spoke next to the painted “2020” rock outside the school, and a long slideshow included photos from dances, sports and performances.

Before the scrolling list of hundreds of graduates’ names, valedictorian Jaden Hardrick thanked everyone from teachers to cafeteria staff, emphasizing the importance of those who help us at every stage of our lives.

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Lebanon High School posted an intricate virtual graduation May 16, starting with a slideshow of messages from teachers, a video of seniors’ car procession and the national anthem by Lebanon grad Marty Roe, the lead singer of platinum-selling country music group Diamond Rio.

There were multiple recorded musical numbers, as choir and marching band members were shown on screen singing from their homes, with the performances mixed together.

At diploma time, each student’s picture was shown on the screen, while video of teachers appeared in the corner, reading the names of the students from their individual teams.

Traditional messages

More graduations are coming Saturday, as Springboro's virtual graduation will be posted online and Vandalia-Butler's one-by-one diploma events will go on throughout the day. Dayton Public Schools's six high schools have events at Welcome Stadium each day next week, and Eaton will hold graduation at its stadium June 5.

At Newton’s parking lot graduation, families honked their horns in appreciation of each speech.

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“We’ve all made mistakes, small and large. We’ve all done or said things that we wish we hadn’t,” Brown told the Newton grads. “The hard truth is, mistakes are part of life, and we learn from them. You are not your mistakes, and they do not define you. They grant you the power to shape your future.”

Lebanon salutatorian Alyssa McKellop said while high school memories like storming the field after a big football win stand out, they’re not the most important things.

“At the end of this journey, our importance is not determined by the number of points we scored, shows we performed or grades we earned,” she said. “Our true value is in the people we have become and the way that we encourage those around us.”

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